With her sprawling new sculpture in Madison Square Park, Teresita Fernández hopes that passersby will start looking up. As the conservancy’s most ambitious project yet, park-goers will be hard pressed not to, considering 500 feet of golden, mirror-polished discs create modernistic canopies above the pathways circumventing the Oval Lawn. The intricately perforated reflective overhang is meant to create an abstract flickering, foliage-like effect on those who pass along the walkways. Its nature-inspired name, “Fata Morgana,” refers to the mirage that stretches across the horizon.
“In many ways, this piece is about the idea of looking up. In New York City, we kind of have a history of looking up,” Fernandez said. “When the [nearby] Flatiron Building was built in 1902, it was one of the only two skyscrapers north of 14th Street.”
Just steps from Vera Wang’s offices and not far from the new Flying Tiger store, the 6.2-acre park attracts 50,000 visitors each day. The Miami-born, Brooklyn-based artist said, “In New York City, we really use parks the way other people use their backyards. This work of art is experiential. I like the fact that people don’t have to walk into a museum to be part of it. It is sort of an alternative immersion experience in the urban landscape.”
Growing up in a family that fled Fidel Castro’s Cuban revolution, Fernandez started making things as a child in the ateliers of her relatives, who had trained as couture seamstresses in Havana. Given that, she doesn’t delineate between the worlds of fashion and art. Having collaborated with Louis Vuitton for its Place Vendôme, Shanghai and Miami Beach stores, Fernandez said, “I feel the art and fashion worlds are so intertwined in so many ways. They are all part of the same creative and artistic community.”
Another lasting impact on the way she sees the world was the inspiration she first found in Japan as an Arcus Project artist’s residency in Moriya, Ibaraki 18 years ago. Fernandez, who continues to visit Japan on a regular basis, said, “There is a particular kind of quietness to my work that is not loud but very sonorous in a way. I understand that Japanese aesthetic and almost distant view that is entwined in space, as well as lightness and darkness, which are all ideas and themes that play into my work.”
Over the years, the Lehmann Maupin-represented artist has racked up her share of accolades, including MacArthur Foundation and Guggenheim fellowships, a National Endowment for the Arts artist’s grant and a Tiffany Foundation Biennial Award. Many others know her for her keynote address “On Amnesia, Broken Pottery, and the Inside of a Form” at her alma mater Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts. That all-are-welcome approach to art are words she still lives by. “Being an artist is not just about working in an isolated way. Art is about people. Works of art are meant to engage. As an artist, you take part of that larger work rather than just being isolated and making things,” Fernandez said.