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Last week, Bryan wrote that he found Oliafur Eliasson’s waterfalls “completely underwhelming.” I’ve been thinking about that. Certainly they do not have the dramatic impact of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s 2005 project “The Gates,” which swathed a wintry Central Park in orange fabric and thereby transformed its landscape. And I think that’s the point: it’s a big public art project that aims to be low key. Eliasson’s project asks us to do a double-take: the waterfalls draw attention to parts of the cityscape that we rarely look at, that we tend to take for granted.

My wife and I took our children out on one of the Circle Line’s half-hour tours of the waterfalls, which leaves from the South Street Seaport. The kids enjoyed the outing, but I think that getting on a boat with the deliberate object of seeing the waterfalls may not be the best way to experience them. It may be better to take the longer Circle Line harbor tour or even the full trip around the island, because then the waterfalls become just one of the sights to see rather than the main attraction. (If you do take the half-hour boat, get there early so that you’re at
the head of the line: the boat they use is smaller than the typical
Circle Line boat and has limited outdoor space.)

I was rollerblading last Sunday by the Hudson River and paused at the Battery. Looking across the water, I saw the waterfall that Eliasson had erected on Governor’s Island, and it made me pause and look — and to scrutinize the island in a way that I never had before.

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Governor’s Island Waterfall and Staten Island Ferry

On Tuesday, my wife and I biked over to Brooklyn, taking the Manhattan Bridge first and returning on the Brooklyn. During the trip, we managed to see the waterfalls from above and from afar, and they became parts of the cityscape, even as they drew attention to areas that we would normally glance over.

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The Manhattan Waterfall from beneath the FDR.

manhattan_waterfall_from _bridge.jpgThe Manhattan Waterfall from from the Manhattan Bridge.

And the waterfall at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge acts as a kind of footnote to the bridge (literally), drawing attention to the way that
the bridge rises out of the water without detracting from the drama
inherent in the bridge itself.

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The Brooklyn Bridge Waterfall

The Gates project was an event.
In Oliafur Eliasson’s Waterfalls project, it’s the city that remains
the main event. The Waterfalls are an homage to the interplay of built
space and water that is a crucial part of the city’s character.