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Jersey City News

Art work is big and shiny, and takes a place of pride in the park

By JEFF THEODORE, JERSEY JOURNAL ARTS EDITOR

Steps from Jersey City's Washington Park, the heartbeat of a working-class, mostly Hispanic enclave in the Heights, the name of a nutrition store spells out in Spanish what observers think the park's newest addition will offer.

"La Buena Energia," or "good energy" - the name of the nutrition store - is what county officials and even casual bystanders are predicting as "Wave," the first county-funded public art piece, unveiled yesterday at Washington Park, situated on the Union City-Jersey City border.

Created by acclaimed artist Chakaia Booker, the brushed stainless steel sculpture - 14 feet high and 35 feet wide - represents the first public art in the county's park system funded through the county's capital budget. In all, the county spent about $175,000 to commission the piece, which is at Paterson Plank Road and Central Avenue.

"When people see this, I think there's no question they will look at it for a while," says William LaRosa, the county's chief of tourism and cultural affairs, who guided the public art effort. "Time will tell, but I think we hit a home run with this."

Jose Fernandez, who runs a mini-market across from the park, says the sculpture may help lift the fortunes of a park that has seen better days.

"With something new and more clean over there, maybe more people will come," says Fernandez, a businessman in the area for 15 years.

Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise echoed the thought.

"Washington Park has been like the ugly stepsister, but that's all going to change now," DeGise said.

"For me, it wasn't a hard sell at all to dedicate capital funds to public art. I work in the Brennan Courthouse, a beautiful place where more than 100 years ago people put a lot of thought into public art, too."

After many months of shaping the sculpture, Booker, internationally known for groundbreaking artistic creations using recycled tires, says she's thoroughly pleased with the result.

"I think it's stunning, beautiful, and I feel very honored about it," said Booker, who was born in Newark and lives in Manhattan. "It's exciting to have the state you grew up in acknowledge your accomplishments."

Booker says she named the piece "Wave" because that title best fits the neighborhood's constant flow of activity.

"I thought about migration here and how the community constantly seems to be changing," she says. "There are never-ending and changing waves of people, traditions and physical shapes of the community captured in this sculpture."

Noted artist Ben Jones, a member of an eight-member public art commission that selected Booker, thinks the piece will spark a wave of artistic curiosity among area residents.

"How much beauty does a working-class area like this get?" he asked. "They need to see art like this. In Europe, this is commonplace. But I think this will make people who've grown used to seeing the mundane ask themselves, 'What is art?'"

See the Jersey Journal's slideshow of "Wave" and a video about the making of the sculpture.