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Five giant masks by Thomas Houseago installed at Rockefeller Center this spring
Thomas Houseago Masks (Pentagon), 2015 Tuf-Cal, hemp, iron rebar, steel, redwood, 18' .75" x 23' 1.125" x 24' 3.5" Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery Photo: Jason Wyche, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY Organized by Public Art Fund and Tishman Speyer.

NEW YORK, NY.- For six weeks this spring, Thomas Houseago’s new commission Masks (Pentagon), featuring five large sculptural masks forming a pentagonal space that visitors may enter, is on view in Rockefeller Plaza. From within, the mask’s eyes create windows that frame views of the landscape and skyscrapers of Midtown Manhattan. Thomas Houseago: Masks (Pentagon) is free to the public and on view April 28 through June 12, 2015 at Rockefeller Center between 49th and 50th Streets. The exhibition is organized by Public Art Fund and Tishman Speyer.

Designed specifically for this plaza, Masks (Pentagon) consists of five masks ranging in height from about 14 ½ to 16 ½ feet, each of which reflects a different approach to the stylized representation of the human face, from clearly recognizable to highly abstracted. Standing vertically with their edges connected at key points, the monumental elements bring Houseago’s striking sculptural language into a dialogue with public space and architectural scale. As each colossal face looks out toward the surrounding cityscape, the spaces between them become “doorways” that give access to an interior “room.”

The five masks, which were cast from clay in industrial-strength synthetic plaster, stand on a stepped base made from massive beams of unfinished redwood. The back of each element of the sculpture reveals the artist’s method of construction – a grid-like armature of rebar inlaid with hemp and plaster. The resulting five-sided form evokes an archaic temple, the ritual function of which has been lost in time.

"Throughout its history, Rockefeller Center has been a destination for the public to experience incredible artwork and architecture firsthand," said Tishman Speyer Co-Chief Executive Officers Jerry Speyer and Rob Speyer. "We are thrilled to partner with the Public Art Fund to unveil Thomas Houseago's Masks (Pentagon), a project that was created specifically to be exhibited in the Plaza, where it will be enjoyed by both New Yorkers and visitors alike."

“In his most experimental and spatially immersive work to date, Thomas Houseago presents us with five indelible yet mysterious faces. They are recognizable only as belonging to the mythical realm of gods and monsters, reinvented for a contemporary moment obsessed with fantasies of both a primitive past and a dystopian future,” said Nicholas Baume, Public Art Fund Director & Chief Curator.

"In this piece I wanted to bring the activity and the feel of the studio into public space as an experience. The public gets to ‘see’ the work both from the outside as an image but then also from the inside as an insight into its construction. It becomes a kind of retreat from the city but also a porous viewing space. The public becomes part of the experience of looking and also an integral part of the work,” said Thomas Houseago.

Houseago creates monumental, often figurative sculptures that combine classical and modernist references and techniques. With a handmade sensibility, he utilizes materials from carved wood, clay, plaster, and bronze to steel rods, concrete, and burlap to create works that intentionally reveal traces of their making. In Masks (Pentagon), planar surfaces like the cheeks or forehead of a face adjoin articulated features like eyebrows or a nose, creating an interplay between flat and three-dimensional elements. The artist’s hand—as well as the footprints of his young daughter—is visible in many of the cast surfaces, while the roughhewn reverse of each face bears metal elements that form connections between the masks. Evoking a visceral response, these abstracted yet iconic faces convey both an elemental sense of power and an open vulnerability.

Since 1998, Public Art Fund and Tishman Speyer have collaborated to present internationally acclaimed works of art to the millions of people who visit and work at Rockefeller Center. Recent projects include Jeff Koons’ massive topiary sculpture Split-Rocker (2000) presented in 2014; Ugo Rondinone’s Human Nature (2013), nine 16-to 20-foot-tall, human-shaped stone figures; Chris Burden’s What My Dad Gave Me (2008), a 65-foot tall skyscraper made up entirely of construction parts; and Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror (2006), which received the award for “Best Show in a Public Space” by the U.S. Art Critics Association. In 2003, Takashi Murakami’s Reversed Double Helix featured his 30-foot-tall “Mr Pointy” sculpture, two giant floating balloons, and a forest of mushroom seating; in 2001, Louise Bourgeois presented three massive bronze spiders, including the 30-foot-tall Maman; and in 2000 Jeff Koons’ first monumental topiary, Puppy, blossomed at the foot of 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

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