In the center of Times Square’s urban landscape, Cuban-born artist Raúl Cordero creates an unexpected oasis — a 20-foot tower covered in a cascade of mountain laurel hosting an illuminated poem inside. The landscaped structure is designed to narrow the sensory overload of Times Square to a concentrated line of vision, drawing the eye to a patch of open sky and the words of the poem overhead. Playing with the architecture and energy of Times Square, Cordero offers us a respite from the attention economy in the form of poetry and nature.
Written by poet and educator Barry Schwabsky and created specifically for Cordero’s Times Square installation, the characters of the poem take shape through glowing bulbs of black light affixed to the interior of the foliage. The structure of the letters forces viewers to linger longer to receive the message — emblematic of Cordero’s ongoing investigation into effects of the digital age on the human mind, specifically our waning ability to focus and the increasing urge to relentlessly multitask.
Cordero’s project is also inspired by and dedicated to fellow Cuban and poet Reinaldo Arenas, an exile of the Cuban government who battled AIDS which led to death by suicide in 1990. As a child, Arenas would write poems while sitting in a tree, a pastime that inspired the height and foliage feel of Cordero’s installation. Arenas spent his final years as a creative in New York City, living only two blocks away from THE POEM’s location.
“It’s difficult to create meaningful art for people in an era when their attention is scattered across so many mediums and technologies simultaneously. THE POEM seeks to stop time, reminding us that humans also have the capacity to invest in one thing at a time — like listen to ‘the secret dialogue of trees’ (as put poetically by Reinaldo Arenas) and read a poem, even when standing in the center of Times Square.”
— Raúl Cordero
In conjunction with the project, Cordero will be presenting text-based video works across digital billboards, and free public programming on the ground featuring New York City’s diverse poetry community. Throughout the run of the exhibition, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Paolo Javier, Barry Schwabsky, and PEN America will each curate evenings of poetry readings and live performance celebrating THE POEM and local poets.
THE POEM coincides with Cordero’s solo show at Richard Taittinger Gallery, HEAVEN IS A PLACE IN THE MIND, on view through April 24.
THE POEM is commissioned by Times Square Arts with generous support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and in part through support from Morgan Stanley, the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.