Night Falls, Waterfalls

During the day, The Waterfalls look like an industrial plumbing accident.

They are four scaffolding towers ranging from 90 to 120 feet high, pouring thousands of gallons of water a minute in a cascade into the river and bay. Last month, the public art project by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson turned on the pumps, and followers of art had high expectations. They wanted it to be as stunning as other major projects in this city, like the saffron draped Gates that artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude planted on the walkways of Central Park, or the works of Robert Smithson, whose posthumously-realized Floating Island was tugged around Manhattan a few years ago.

The waterfalls are placed at locations on the East River and Governor’s island. One is under the east tower of the Brooklyn Bridge, and another sits just north of the Manhattan bridge, where I can see it from the D train on my morning commute.

And though I love Vincent Laforet’s photos of them in the New York Times, daylight shows too much of the falls’ mechanics. The towers could just as easily support concert speakers or window washers. It is curious to see the towers and it is a marvelous endeavor, a surprising addition to the landscape.

But as an art experience, in the sun’s glare, the waterfalls fail to enchant.

I’d been told by many, however, that at night it’s a different story.

Last night, I boarded the classic sailing yacht Ventura with a great pal and a satchel of snacks, and Captain Pat set sail from the Winter Garden harbor and steered his 1919 wooden boat out toward the Statue of Liberty.

As the sun set, storm clouds in the distance turned the sky dark orange, and a rainbow rose over Brooklyn. The light was gorgeous as it set behind Ellis and Liberty islands.

As the evening grew darker, Pat rode the winds back toward downtown Manhattan, and the Ventura sailed past Governor’s Island, where the waterfall there had been shut down due to some kind of malfunction.

Then, in the lee of Manhattan skyscrapers, the sheets went limp, Pat turned the motor on, and powered up the East River. We glided upstream under the Brooklyn Bridge, then Pat turned the boat south again, and brought us within fifty feet of the waterfall under the iconic bridge.

The spray of the falls misted over us.

By night, the falls are lit white, and the scaffolding disappears behind the shimmering cascade.

They come blazing to life among the lights of the city.

They’re beautiful.

all photos and text copyright ©2008 Craig Duff

all rights reserved

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