Environmental issues are probably the last thing on the mind of the many voracious tourists in the heart of Times Square. But New York-based German artist Josephine Meckseper wanted to change things up. Since moving stateside in 1990, the spectrum of her work—from photographs to videos to collages to window displays—deals with the dark truths of capitalist culture.
In March, she took over the Art Production Fund’s Last Lot project space at 46th Street and Eighth Avenue, where she erected two twenty-five-foot-tall oil jacks that bob up and down just like the real thing. Titled Manhattan Oil Project, the kinetic sculpture is Meckseper’s first public art installation.
The red and black steel rigs were inspired by old oil pumps the artist saw on a visit to Electra, Texas, a city that was once the center of an economic boom and symbol of American prosperity and industrialization. Electra is still around, though its oil is long gone. The parallels Meckseper draws by placing the oil jacks in New York’s tech-infused theater district raises questions about business, capital, natural resources, and use of land.
Despite the surrounding signs that identify the rigs as art, a remarkably small number of people seemed to notice the sculpture whilst hurrying through the midtown chaos.