Workers en route to Time Inc., Condé Nast and other downtown corporate anchors now have a new pit stop: the seven-foot red “Vandal Gummy” sculpture in the lobby of 4 World Trade Center.
The street artist WhisBe, whose moniker is short for “What is Beautiful,” created the candylike art, which holds a Department of Corrections placard in its gelatin paws. He actually first started working at 4 WTC after Silverstein Properties’ chief marketing officer Dara McQuillan dropped by the nearby Wall Street Gallery to see if any artists would be game to work on murals on the then-vacant 69th floor. WhisBe was all in after his friend Sean Sullivan, better known as Layer Cake, told him about the project. Incoming tenant Spotify, which has leased floors 62 through 72, liked the art so much that they plan to keep it once they move in.
Although there were never plans to compensate the artists since the 69th floor was meant to be used a showcase for potential tenants and an event space, WhisBe and Layer Cake have since negotiated using another vacant floor as a studio — the 34,000-square-foot 59th floor with 360-degree views of the city. “I’m from New York so when I get asked to paint at the World Trade Center, I’m going to say yes,” WhisBe said. “It went over so well that afterwards Sean and I negotiated to get vacant space. It’s not indefinite but we take it as everything that positively moves forward will continue to move forward for everybody.”
Silverstein executives asked the artist to lose the Department of Corrections reference on the lineup placard but he declined. (Its “6-6-07” date refers to a turning point in his life that he declined to explain.) Once it was installed they said, “The only people who don’t like this piece are the security guards because they have to usher people out all day long because they won’t stop taking pictures with it.” the artist said.
“When people ask me questions about what certain things mean, I tend to respond with, ‘What does it mean to you?’ I have my relationship with the work so it’s about the new viewer and the relationship that they deliver with it. You may not have had something on that specific date but maybe you’ve been arrested.” he said. “The piece represents innocence lost so it was kind of like, ‘Well, what did the gummy bear do?’ and then people create their own monologue of what’s going on.”
The journey of the gummy bears to 4 WTC was recently shot for a Vice News segment, according to Vincent Harrison, who represents the artist at Castle Fitzjohns Gallery. The artist will have 10 canvases and two sculptures in the gallery-store Canvas Malibu in Malibu this summer. This fall one of Vandal Gummy pieces will be installed at the Moco Museum in Amsterdam for a six-month run and a Vandal Gummy-themed party is being planned for Art Basel Miami.
Still a street artist as well, WhisBe said he wasn’t conflicted about working indoors when so much of his work is outdoors. “I paint because I can’t not paint. So whether it’s indoors or outdoors, as long as it’s contributing to my creative outlet, I can almost every time say I love doing it. The only challenging part about painting indoors is that it tends to be permission-oriented and there tend to be more guidelines, restrictions and say from other people. The outdoor stuff that I do, we could say, is typically without permission. That’s where I get my real outlet because there’s nobody to restrict what I want to do, how I want to do it, what I’d like to say and the message I’d like to convey.”