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Van Gogh’s Ear at Rockefeller Center

Van Gogh’s Ear (and art) have fascinated the public for years. As the story goes, in 1888, Vincent van Gogh moved to Arles in the south of France to create a space for artists to live and work. He found said place and convinced his friend and fellow painter, Paul Gaugin, to join him. The two worked together successfully for months before the friendship soured and Gaugin decided to return to Paris. Van Gogh was so upset about the failure of the friendship that he took a knife and cut off his left ear lobe. After bandaging himself, he wrapped the lobe in newspaper and took it to a brothel where he asked Rachel, the girl he gave it to, to guard it carefully.

Van Gogh's Ear 1

Now, 163 years after van Gogh’s death, the artists Elmgreen and Dragset have created a public art piece they call Van Gogh’s Ear, in tribute the famous artist’s most famous external organ. The piece, located at the Fifth Avenue entrance to Rockefeller Center’s Channel Garden (across from Saks Fifth Avenue), is on display until June 3rd.

Van Gogh's Ear 3

An ear was not the first thing that came to mind when I saw Van Gogh’s Ear close up this week. The shape made me think, at first, of a gigantic bean (or giant foot) but with its Tiffany blue-looking interior and striking white edges, I decided that it looked more like a pool. But the silver steps on the right, the elongated strip at the top (the diving board) and the small circular lights at the bottom, convinced me.

Van Gogh's Ear.

But how does a pool become an ear? According to The Guardian, the artists, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, who have been working together since 1995 (longer than van Gogh and Gaugin were able to do), are fascinated with swimming pools. They’re also known for taking ordinary objects out of their usual context, like Prada Marfa, their installation of a Prada store in the middle of the Texan desert.

Van Gogh's Ear plaque

Van Gogh’s Ear is a pool, and it’s also an ear. When you look at the backside of the 30-foot installation, which stands upright on its wider end, you definitely see the outline of an ear. Bracketed as it is by towering brick buildings, the shock of color, whether viewed from the front (blue), or the back (white) where it seems to sit in a flower garden with two small pools, is eye-catching, and incongruous. But then, that’s the idea.

Van Gogh’s Ear Particulars

Location: Fifth Avenue entrance (between 49th & 50th Streets) to Rockefeller Center
Dates: April 13- June 3, 2016
Free

Linking this week with Travel Photo Thursday and The Weekly Postcard.  

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