Something surreal is blooming in Central Park: Bouquets of what look like flowers morph into insects upon closer examination, while pigeons turn the table on cats, carrying them away to the heavens.
It’s not an alternate universe — just the one created by Greenpoint-based artist Zane York, whose naturalist images make up Nature Morte, the spring exhibition at the Parks Department’s Arsenal Gallery. “There’s definitely an oddness about his work,” says Jennifer Lantzas, deputy director of public art in the city’s parks. “When you’re first coming up on one of his works, you think you know what you’re going to expect, and then it totally throws you for a loop.”
Styled after Dutch masters like Johannes Vermeer, York’s work infuses their trademark melancholy with flashes of dark humor in the spirit of Hieronymus Bosch. What gets Lantzas particularly is that painting of the flying cats, called “Ascension,” which she describes as “an absurdist image but at the same time, the way that it’s been painted in a circular canvas, it almost feels like it could be a traditional ceiling mural that you’d see in a Catholic church.”
Themes of mortality and transience make it the perfect exhibit for spring — the paintings are going on view tonight, when the natural world is still largely desolate from winter, and will come down at the end of April when the park is in full bloom. All of the works are for sale, with a portion of proceeds benefitting public art in the parks.
The Arsenal has been hosting exhibitions since the late 1960s, under the general themes of nature, urban planning, city parks and their history. “New Yorkers, we know our parks, but we may not stop and think about what impact they’re having on our lives,” Lantzas says of the gallery’s mission.
“So we’re asking artists to make us think a little bit deeper about our public spaces and whether that’s through just being aware of nature and what’s around us and thinking about it just a little bit differently, hopefully making people pause and see that we have more to add to the conversation at the Parks Department than more than just, ‘Let’s keep our trees green.’”
As with all Arsenal exhibits, “Nature Morte” is free to attend. See it during a special opening night party from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 8, or during the gallery’s normal weekday hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.