Crowd-Pleasing Detour Spotlights Anita’s Way



Pedestrians celebrate the "Performer," artist Adam Frank's newest installation in Anita's Way that entertains a small crowd while in the spotlight. Photo: Alex Contratto

A square archway of stage lights and large speakers blaring cheers inhabits the wall of Anita’s Way, a narrow passageway east of Broadway between 42nd and 43rd streets, near Times Square.

Actually, this archway, entitled “Performer,” is the newest art installation created by artist Adam Frank, where towering lights focus a piercing spotlight onto the middle of the passageway.  As people pass through the light, the sound of a crowd of 500 fans celebrating exudes a rowdy uproar.  The more movement, the greater the applause.  “It generates the correct audience response.  It never repeats itself, it’s always varied, and we can generate a spattering of applause to the full roar of a 500 person audience,” said Frank.

Frank is an artist who focuses on large-scale, public artwork as well as on manufacturing his own art-related products. “I’ve been working on this kind of idea for a long time now, and I just wanted to make something that momentarily promotes this relationship between viewer and subject here, and allow the focus of attention to be on the individual, on the person, on anyone,” said Frank.  Installed early last week but presented to the public on Oct. 13 in Anita’s Way, the “Performer” runs from 10 in the morning to 8 in the evening every day.

“People become obsessed with seeing themselves in the spotlight,” said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance.  “It’s the exact same phenomenon as the Forever 21 sign in Times Square.  People love to do that. And in a big city in our ordinary lives, where we are grinding through the day, this is the little way people get some affirmation, and also a laugh,” said Tompkins.

Founded in 1992, the Times Square Alliance strives to enhance and promote everything involved with Times Square.  Holding an open call for art projects during the summer of 2010, the Times Square Alliance received more than 400 applications and ideas, but Frank’s design stood above the rest.  “When we saw this one, we knew immediately we wanted to do it.  It’s related to Times Square, it involves new technologies, and it also incorporates a mixture of art and ordinary people,” said Tompkins.

Tompkins believes projects similar to Frank’s will encourage other artists to expand their horizons to encapsulate not just the Times Square experience, but their stance on American culture as well.  “It’s great when [these installations] get attention because it means more and more people coming to us with great ideas.  And we just hope that ordinary people who may not be interacting with art all the time, they have this experience; they look at the world in a new way because of the artist intervention,” said Tompkins.

“I wanted to make something simple that made people feel good on their way to work every day,” said Frank.  “It’s funny when you are here at ten in the morning and it turns on and then shocks people.  The whole thing is automatic,” said Frank.

This is a temporary piece, uncommon for Frank who usually works on permanent installations, including fixtures in Denver and a piece a few blocks away in Grand Central Terminal.  Yet the Anita’s Way installation peaks Frank’s interests.  “This piece is extremely site-specific, I think for obvious reasons, here.  I mean we are right next to a theater, right next to Times Square.  In fact, a whole audience for a theater actually wait right here before they go in twice a day, so this is really a site specific piece for New York, and for New Yorkers,” said Frank.  “The Durst family and specifically Anita Durst allowed us to install here, and this really ended up being the perfect location I think as far as I’m concerned,” said Frank.

Teaming with The Times Square Alliance and The Durst Organization Inc., who owns the theater next to this plaza walkway, the two companies partnered with Frank to supply a safe, accessible space, protected from the elements where many people may walk through easily.

Jordan Barowitz, director of external affairs for The Durst Organization Inc., said he and The Durst Organization recently looked for more programming in and around Anita’s Way.  “We have been doing programming in Anita’s Way since the building opened and we though this piece was charming, clever, and appropriate for the location,” said Barowitz.

Barowitz mentioned that although the installation is next to a theater that features multiple performances daily, the art does not interfere with the people waiting outside the show.  Furthermore, Barowitz thinks advertising of the piece in Anita’s Way would be unnecessary.  “We think it speaks pretty well for itself,” said Barowitz.

“Its a perfect space,” said Tompkins.  “It allows for the individual experience, but it’s got a steady flow of people coming through.”

Tompkins stressed that in order to reach a broader audience, users need to stumble upon this experience, almost taken by surprise.

A few days later, overhearing the raucous commotion from 43rd Street during lunchtime, visitors Bart Kiely, from Ireland, and his friend Mark Moloney, originally from Ireland but living in Weehawken, New Jersey, investigated the “Performer” on Anita’s Way.  “This is really fun.  It certainly isn’t harming anyone,” said Kiely.

“It’s really, really cool,” said Moloney.  “It’s so fun to see people cheering and celebrating.  We had to come over and check it out ourselves.  It really pumps people up.”

Frank used a collection of his close friends’ voices, claps, vocalisms as well as subtle sounds to supply the cheers of appreciation for the “Performer.”  But that was the easy part.  “You need to have the exact, correct site for this, and that means that it has to be covered from the elements, it has to have electricity, it has to have trust…safety for the equipment, it has to be safe for viewers,” said Frank.

Moreover, Times Square is a challenge in itself. “It can’t interfere with a lot of things that happen in Times Square,” said Frank, which include concerns of the river of people rushing through the area every hour.  The blinding signs posted as huge billboards above Times Square would wash out the artist’s spotlight.  Additionally, without a little seclusion, too many people would constantly stroll through the floodlight, confusing who is responsible for roaring crowd when the installation comes to life.

“We like it because it’s fun,” said Tompkins, who believes Frank’s exhibit taps into Times Square’s integrity.  Times Square is about “a little bit of narcissism, a little bit of voyeurism.  The modern world is all about the need for affirmation and being the center of attention.  So it just fits with so many things we like to have with our art program,” said Tompkins.

Frank organized funding for the piece himself, without the help of The Times Square Alliance or The Durst Organization.  Using Kickstarter, the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world, Frank collected enough money to turn his idea into reality.  “A lot of people donated to the costs of equipment to the installation.  A lot of crowd sourced funding for this installation.  I thought it was appropriate,” said Frank.

So far Frank appears pleased with the success of his piece.  “We’ve had cops, construction workers, the FedEx guy, kids, businessmen.  Everyone get a chuckle out of it, a smile,” said Frank.  The piece is simple and provides direct impact on people in Times Square, engendering a unique light in the midst of a bubbling brook of people.  “Performer” runs through Nov. 22.

Alex Contratto