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Nearness, Public Art in Times Square

Normally when I’m rushing through Times Square, it’s the viewers – mostly from out-of-town – I have to watch out for. They gather in groups outside the ABC television studio window to watch the taping of the morning show, or wander around, camera at the ready, eyes lifted skyward oblivious to those of us who are trying to get to work on time. Sometimes, they cover the sidewalk like a slow-moving tide that rarely breaks.

Truthfully, Times Square can be frustrating for regulars in a hurry but there’s really no place like it.

Nearness, Public Art in Times Square
Arles del Rio’s Nearness, Times Square

To complicate matters, for several weeks the City had crews resurfacing the plaza in front of the ABC studio (those bricks are new) and repairing 43rd Street so a large swath of the Square inaccessible. Do you ever notice how much road and construction work take place in the summer? I was relieved when the work was done, when the Square was back to its normal size.

A few days after, as I hurried from Broadway on to 43rd Street, I stopped in my tracks. Directly in front of me in the plaza, the same one that for weeks construction crews had cordoned off, was a mass of cut-out figures. Now I have visitors and installations to avoid, I thought. But it was fleeting.

Truthfully, I love art. It lightens my heart when I find it in places I don’t expect. This did. These framed life-sized chain-linked embroidered cut outs of the human body, some standing together in twos or threes, like in a photo, some solo – made me smile.

Chain link art? Artists sure know how to make art of the everyday, that’s what I love about them, I though. Then I remembered reading my blogger friend, Jeff Titelius’s post on Nikolai Astrup. He once used denim as a medium. Now that’s thinking outside the box.

As I walked towards the figures, I realized that I could see people through the cut-outs. Then instead of walking around as I had done, one man walked right through one. This is pretty cool, I thought as I glanced at my watch – yes, I had time to check them out – and pulled out my cell phone.

Created by Arles del Rio, Nearness, according to the Times Square website, “deals with restrictions, distance, the forbidden and achieving longings despite impediments.”

Sometimes art is inaccessible, leaving the viewer wondering about the artist’s intent. What I like about Nearness is its simplicity. It communicates, engages, and invites you to interact.

One morning as I walked through, I noticed a new sign telling people not to climb on to the installation. I was late and promised to take a photo of it on my way home. The following morning, Nearness was gone. I was disappointed. I brightened up when I saw on the Times Square website that it had only moved to the next block. Nearness will be on view until August 18th so if your travels take you to Manhattan, be sure to check it out.

A Little About Arles del Rio:

Arlés del Rio was born on November 6th, 1975, in Havana, Cuba. He has participated in many national and international exhibitions including The XI Havana Biennial, and his public installation “Fly Away” was part of the Behind the Wall Project (Detrás del Muro) also exhibited at The XI Havana Biennial and The 8th Floor Gallery in NYC. Recently, Arlés participated in group exhibitions such as “Premio Maretti” and “Stealing Base”. He was nominated for the 2012-13 Vermont Studio Center Fellowship Award sponsored by the Reed Foundation. His work is part of private and institutional collections in several countries including the USA, Spain, Italy, France, Switzerland and Greece. – From Times Square website.

Where Nearness will be next:

July 20 – August 1, 2014: Broadway plaza between 42nd & 43rd Streets

August 2 – 9, 2014: Broadway plaza between 43rd & 44th Streets

August 10 – 18, 2014 Duffy Square at Broadway & 46th Street

Linking up with Nancie’s Travel Photo Thursday.

Be sure to head over and check out more travel photos from around the world.

Naked Buskers in Times Square

Times Square is the heaviest populated tourist area in the world. It draws approximately 39 million visitors annually. Most come to gawk at the giant billboards and the neon and LED-lighted ads, but a lot more come to take their photos with one of the naked buskers who roam the area. 

Times Square near rush hour on last Friday was a slow-moving sea of people who clogged the sidewalk making locals rushing to catch buses and subways do detours into the street just to get round them. That’s the Times Square I was prepared for. I wasn’t expecting to see so many street performers but I should have known. The unusually balmy October afternoon drew almost everyone outdoors.

I spotted Elmo, the giant Statue of Liberty, the Transformer Robot, and several naked buskers. Everyone knows about the Naked Cowboy, the granddaddy of the naked buskers who strolls around Times Square entertaining visitors and locals in his cowboy hat, cowboy boots, tidy whities, and his guitar placed strategically so that it gives the impression that he’s nude.

The Naked Cowboy also has his naked cowgirls, though I didn’t see any. Who I did see, and dubious pleasure of meeting, was $andy Kane, the Naked Cowgirl.

Kane, a former stripper, who looks more like someone’s great-grandmother than a naked busker, has played the Naked Cowgirl for about 6 years. She parades around Times Square, her red cowboy hat covering flowing pink hair, the bottom half of black bikini, pasties affixed to her sagging breasts, garter belts, and flats. A gold-studded bra that looks like it supported someone far more buxom, hangs from her guitar. I don’t remember hearing her actually play.

Kane offered to pose but I told her I only had $1 left. She did anyway. When I downloaded the photo, I noticed she’d given the finger, two actually. But it wasn’t personal, that’s part of Kane’s act, probably from her stripper days.

The Naked Indian and The Naked Cowboy share a moment
The Naked Indian and The Naked Cowboy share a moment

I must have picked the right place (Broadway and 45th Street) to sit as I saw not just one, but two Naked Cowboys. I also saw the Naked Indian, Adam David. David, who’s been operating as the Naked Indian for a little more than a year, recently settled a dispute with the Naked Cowboy over the name. Robert John Burck, aka the Naked Cowboy, holds a trademark and each cowboy pays a franchise fee.

Women were gladly lining up to have their photos taken with the Naked Indian and the Naked Cowboy, and get a chance to squeeze each of their buns. No, I took no photos of that silly spectacle.

The most popular character on Friday was the Showgirl. Men followed her every provocative pose. For $5, you get to take a photo with her. I’ve forgotten now what she said her name is – but when I think of her, I think Jade. If you look closely, you’ll notice that her costume’s painted on. Two guys were with her, one collected the money – she’s got no pockets – and another stood close by, I guess as a bodyguard.

When I told my friends about the female naked buskers I’d seen in Times Square, they wanted to know how they were allowed to perform nearly nude.  According to a New York law, full nudity in public is legal if it’s part of a performance or play.

Street performers are also protected under the First Amendment. They are free to stroll Times Square and to work for tips from $2 to $5 taking photos but they’re not allowed to demand money, sell merchandise or block traffic.

Buskers, naked and clothed, can take home $50-70 a day, others like the Naked Cowboy who’s considered the #1 tourist attraction in New York City, can take home much more.

Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, Times Square, which is 1% of New York City’s total land size, generates 11% of the city’s economic output and 10% of the jobs. Since 2007, economic growth in this iconic area that lies between Broadway and Seventh Avenue and stretches from 42nd to 47th Street, outpaced the city’s by 13% during the same period.

#Travel Photo Thursday: Times Square Afternoon

I love Times Square, especially in the summer when I can grab a seat and watch the world pass by. It’s not hard to spot the visitors — in Times Square, they outnumber New Yorkers.

#TPThursday: Times Square
#TPThursday: Times Square Afternoon

You never know who you’ll spot in the crowd. Shortly after I took this photo, I glimpsed the Naked Cowboy strolling across Broadway. An eager crowd surrounded him as soon as he got to the other side of the street. I thought that if I hurried, I could get a photo before more people arrived. But by the time the lights changed, he had moved further down the block. I never caught up with him.

Who’s the Naked Cowboy? He’s Robert John Burck, a street performer who wears only a cowboy hat, briefs, and cowboy boots. He also plays a guitar which he carries in front of him covering his privates.

Originally from Ohio, the Naked Cowboy has been a fixture in Times Square for many years now. He’s become a franchise, licensing Naked Cowboys in other cities.

#TPThursday: Times Square Afternoon

The Naked Cowboy isn’t the only street performer in Times Square — they come and go — but he’s probably the most popular. I noticed a few Elmo impersonators who, for a few dollars, will let you take a photo with them. Here are videos of two others.


Mark Scott Johnson

I left Times Square, and less than 20 minutes later the friend I was meeting saw Snoop Dog when she passed through to meet me. A huge crowd had gathered, almost taking up a block.

That’s the other thing about Times Square, the crowds. The only time there isn’t a crowd is in the early morning. Go then to experience it and go back later to see how different the energy is.

Have you been to Time Square? What did you like about it?

This is my submission to this week’s Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday series. Be sure to check out other photo and story entries on their website.

Ever Notice These Statues in Times Square?

Times Square is known for many things – bright lights, skyscraper billboards, store after store hawking everything from cameras to souvenirs but few people notice the statues. I’m one of them. I’ve walked through Times Square a million times and didn’t see them until one early morning a few months ago.

Although I was late for work, I had to stop and take a photo. Who knew there were these statures in Times Square? And who were these people who were influential enough to have their likenesses rendered for posterity?

Statue of George M. Cohan in Times Square
Statue of George M. Cohan in Times Square

George M. Cohan, the first coast to coast superstar, started out at age 8 as a child performer. He was part of the group, The Four Cohans. His parents, Helen and Jeremiah, were traveling vaudeville performers and he joined them on stage as an infant. He became a successful actor, singer, dancer, playwright, composer, librettist, producer and director, and was known once as “The Man Who Owned Broadway.” Cohan’s first big hit on Broadway was Little Johnny Jones (1904) which introduced the songs Give My Regards to Broadway and The Yankee Doodle Boy. He went on to produce over fifty musicals.

Cohan was born in Providence, Rhode Island on July 3, 1878 and died on November 5, 1942.

Statue of Father Francis Duffy, Times Square
Statue of Father Francis Duffy, Times Square

Father Francis P. Duffy – I didn’t understand at first how or why a stature of a Catholic priest came to be in Times Square until I did a little research and made the connection to Duffy Square. The northern end of Times Square, between 45th and 47th Streets in front of the steps to the TKTS Booth, is called Duffy Square in honor of Father Francis Duffy. A chaplain for the Fighting 69th, Father Francis, a Canadian, became the most highly decorated cleric in the history of the U.S. Army.

Father Duffy was born in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada on May 2, 1871. He died in New York City on June 27, 1932. At his death, General MacArthur revealed that he had recommended Father Duffy to lead the 165th Regiment.

Travel Rules: What Not to do When You Visit New York City

New York City boasts an impressive array of attractions and activities – from Central Park to Broadway – that draw about 40 million American and international visitors annually.

Where to go, what to see

And we love that you come, because last year alone, you pumped $39 million into our economy.

But for people like me who work in the middle of some of the City’s most popular tourist areas – Times Square, Broadway, Rockefeller Center, Grand Central, etc., it feels like all 49 million of you descend on those areas right at rush hour.

So, if you happen to find yourself in any of these areas during rush hour, here’s what not to do:

  1. Don’t Hold up Traffic: Between 7-9 a.m., New Yorkers rush to get to work and between 4-6 p.m., they will almost run you over to catch the bus or train or subway that will take them home. Since you’re on vacation, you stroll. So if you’re caught during rush hour, rather than have us swearing, “Tourists!” under our breaths (or sometimes, at you), move to the side and let us rush past so we can get home to pick up the kids, send the nanny home, feed the cat, walk the dog, etc.
  2. Don’t Walk More than Two Abreast: A lot of sidewalks in the areas mentioned are wider than normal but it’s not an invitation for you and your entourage to spread out. Be mindful of us trying to get home, so walk don’t walk more than two abreast.
  3. Pay Attention: With some of the most interesting buildings in the world, like New York Public Library, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, etc., we understand that you will want to stop, look up and take photographs. But during rush hour, don’t stroll and look up at the same time or turn around quickly. We wouldn’t want to run into you.
New York

Living in this magnificent city has taught me to be a more thoughtful visitor so when I go to other countries, I follow my own unwritten rules.

What are some of your travel rules?

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