Reviews about The Angel Project immediately intrigued Gothamist: Installation art as self-guided New York scavenger hunt. So we decided to experience the mysterious solitary walk during the piece's limited run as part of the Lincoln Center Festival.
[Ed. note: This post effectively "spoils" The Angel Project. There are photographs. There are descriptions. We decided to run this because The Angel Project's run is over. Continue reading at your discretion.]
We were able to go on a clear and crisp Saturday morning. Our ticket had indicated that we were to go to Roosevelt Island, with the recommended transportation being the Roosevelt Island Tram at Second Avenue and East 59th Street.
The ticket instructions had said to wait near the bus stop, and in fact, there were not only signs letting us know what to do, there were a couple Angel Project goers there. As the Angel Project is a solitary experience, our "appointment" times were staggered by five minute intervals. We just spoke to each other to find out the others' scheduled start times, so that we wouldn't all fight for the car. Which happened to be a golf car.
The car careened around the west side of the island, giving us a spectacular view of the East Side. We entered a gated area, which we later learned was South Point Park, recently opened to the public. The driver dropped us off near a trailer and told us to wait outside.
Then he picked up another AP goer and sped off.
We waited outside the trailer for a few minutes. The door opened and a young woman invited us in. First, she checked our ticket and ID. Then she explained the rules of the Angel Project.
- Handing us a booklet, she said this was our new ticket that we should have in our hands at all times. This would allow us to enter all the venues.
- She also gave us a $4 Metrocard, as some of the trip would require the subway.
- All directions in the ticket booklet were very detailed and would get us to the locations. If we were to get lost, we should go back to the last location and someone would help us.
- She said that we should not talk to the other AP goers. If we were travelling with other people, we should simply meet up somewhere afterwards.
- The Angel Project is self-paced. It takes around 2-3 hours, but we could take as long as we wanted. If we wanted to take a break and get a coffee, we could.
- No photography is allowed. (Sorry, Angel Project, this rule Gothamist had to break. We have our duty.)
The woman told us to go outside and enjoy the open field at South Point Park. When we felt we were ready, we could take the car to Site 1.
Gothamist wandered onto the field and started to inspect the booklet. A quote about angels from Paradise Lost at the beginning. Angel quote from Rilke on the back. A total of nine sites, mostly in Manhattan. Locations like a Peep-O-Rama on West 42nd Street, 1 Times Square, and The Chrysler Building.
While we waited, we walked over to the ivy-covered castle, then admired by the East Side skyline. Queensboro Bridge, Citicorp Center, Chrysler Building, Trump World Tower, Empire State Building, UN... We hopped onto a golf car. We were dropped off right underneath the Queensboro Bridge for Site 1, where an old green wooden trailer stood. An old man in a suit and cap nodded for us to enter the trailer.
The trailer was rickety and there were two windows. Out one window, we were able to see someone's (the old man's?) fishing set up along the East River. And outside the other, we saw a young man looking out into the East River, sitting in a rowboat on the ground. There was a bucket next to him, filled with water and a towel. Then the young man turned and looked directly at us. We started at each other for a while and Gothamist blinked first and stepped away. On to Site 2.
Site 2 was taking Roosevelt Island F Train stop. We used our supplied Metrocard and descended down the escalator for a Manhattan bound train. The Roosevelt Island station is vast and feels very empty. No one else was on the escalators with us.
While on the subway, Gothamist offered our seat to a little girl from out of town, who literally looked like an angel - cherubic with blond curls. Her mother thanked us and we wondered if that was part of the experience - "good samaritan" type acts. Our destination was the Bryant Park stop, and we had explicit directions to exit out the Southwest exit. And sitting on the steps of that exit was a young man, head in lap. Was he a part of the Angel Project? Thus starting our querying everything around us as "Is this Angel Project or not?"
Site 3 was at 1040 Avenue of the Americas, Apartment 4S. The apartment was run down, filled with strange tableaus: Pages and pages torn from a phone book, with last names circled in red marker (The names? All names of angels.) Photographs spilling out a desk, as well as hospital bracelets from last year as well as thirty years ago. A small shrine of old toys on the floor. Old maps tacked to the walls. A makeshift bed on the floor. Sort of like the apartment of a mad person.
Up the street at 1065 Avenue of the Americas was Site 4. We noticed a person sitting at a desk. She noticed our Angel Project ticket and noted that in a notebook. The booklet directed us to a floor and told to followed the arrows.
We found ourselves in a huge room, with two rows of lockers in the center, with feathers around the perimeter. Here we encountered our first fellow AP goer. We tried not to look at each other as we explored the room. Some of the lockers were locked. Some were open and we rifled through them. Photographs, prayer cards. A horn. Pile of sugar - the previous person left a handprint, we made a spiral design.
Some of the windows overlooked Bryant Park. There was a bird cage in the room as well, filled with two birds chirping loudly.
Site 5 was the Peep-o-Rama, "left of Tad's Steaks. Before entering, we had visions of viewing booths and scummy old men. But there were just some chairs facing the window looking out onto West 42nd and a door to another room.
The room was barely lit. Dim bare bulbs hanging over those big commercial laundry carts that were filled with mainly books. There were three others there, and we all were looking at the books. Books about the bible, Jesus, Christianity. Old 16MM Sunday school films. Small typed card with trivia about religion. Records of hymns. Endless books. After skimming the first couple layers of a few carts, we noticed a door in the back of the room. There were stairs leading to the basement, but there was "Do not enter" tape lazily blocking the way. As other AP goers had gone down and come up, we decided to inspect for ourselves.
And it seemed that one of the Angel Project staffers accidentally left the door open, since there was nothing going on. Just lots more of the kinds of books in the carts, plus a notebook that was a log of all the AP goers. Oops. We scrambled back upstairs and sat in the Peep-o-Rama's "foyer" and watched people on West 42nd Street. From the outside, the window was a mirror, so many of the passers-by would glance at the mirror, checking themselves out. Some stopped to primp.
We walked to Site 6, which was the northern tip of the triangle at Times Square, at West 44nd Street.
Right before we hit the very northern tip, we passed by a couple. The man suddenly got down on his knee and proposed to the woman, who became sheepish. Tourists walking by them oohed and aahed (mainly women). It seemed like the woman accepted. We think it was real, not Angel Project. At the northern tip, there was a nun. Was she real or not? We looked around Times Square, catching Jeremy Blake's Creative Time Project at the 59th minute. Pleased, we moved to Site 7, One Times Squre.
One Times Square is the building that formerly housed the Warners Bros. Studio Store - it currently has tons of ads for various Warner Bros. properties as well as the NBC Jumbotron. The store is now vacant, and the building looked deserted. We took the elevator to the 16th floor. It was an old office. The arrows took us left, where we passed a room full of computers.
In the hallway, there was a body on the floor, next to a crate. We could see that the man's eyes were blindfolded, as we passed him to get to the next room.
This room was filled with birds in birdcages, with electric fans blowing. We left and went into another room. Old office furniture, with chairs on the desks, positioned looking outside. File cabinets filled with old photographs of children. Old medical records, a baby book. A phone rang incessantly, so we picked it up. No one at the other end of the line.
We walked through the room of computers, old discarded computers from CCNY. Some were on. A sign said to go the 18th floor by the stairs. So we went.
The first room was less deserted looking. In fact, the fax machine had a transmission coming through, and there were mounds of the transmission behind the desk. Close look - John Milton's Paradise Lost was being faxed through. The next room, there were two people, two "Angels," in there. One perched on the windowsill, the other sitting on the floor. When they both turned to stare at us, Gothamist scooted out. Being stared at is unnerving. Next stop - the 19th floor.
Double doors were open to a huge trapezoidal shaped room. Covering the floor was sugar, and lilies were stuck into the sugar. To the East, we could see the Conde Nast building.
Wandering around, we noticed there were a few horns interspersed with the lilies as well.
The last part of Site 7 was the 20th Floor. There, a tub of water with flowers floating in it sat in the middle of a raw hallway.
Site 8 was hidden in the back of the huge AMC Empire/Applebee's eating area complex on West 42nd. Instructed to enter a door at the back, it turns out there is this old theater, the Liberty Theater, there. It's run down, and perhaps it will be restored some day. But on this day, as part of the Angel Project, it was just an open space - no rows of seats, with stage and mezzanine seating. There was a skinny old man sitting in the middle of the where the seats would be. A young black man was sleeping on a piece of clear plastic on the floor. Lights directed the eye to the balcony, where an Asian woman looked down at the black man - and she had wings. A middle-aged Hispanic man sat at the back of the stage. It was an incredible tableau. Dimly light wooden theater, somehow the spareness of theater and the contrived situations of the angels worked very well.
We took the S shuttle from Times Square to the last site, the Chrysler Building. On the train, a woman saw us holding the ticket and said "Ooh, I want to go on that." Gothamist just smiled. She said, "Oh, are you on it now?" We nodded and she left us alone.
At the Chrysler Building, we went to the 63rd floor. It was a desert office, save for some other AP goers. There were rows and rows of cubicles. Then we walked to some of the offices with windows. Inside were angels, all wearing thick greyish wool coats, wandering in the halls, sitting on desks, looking outside.
One angel sat on a windowsill, legs dangling outside the window, 63 floors above. Another was curled up sleeping on a small counter. Most stared outside, but then would turn and look at us.
The views from the windows were sweeping - Empire State Building to the South, Met Life Building to the West, and interestingly enough, to the East, we could see Roosevelt Island - and the trailer where we started our walk. In other rooms, there were not only copies of the Bible, but copies of the Torah and Qu'ran. And also copies of Paradise Lost.
Being forced to be conscious of surroundings, versus running around the city against the clock, on schedule, was really liberating. Everything did seem to be a touched with a different beauty and thoughtfulness. The Angel Project works beautifully as an experiment and invitation for people to explore. But if there's one even more powerful thing that one is left with, it's a realization of what time can be in your own hands, which doesn't need to be dictated by a ticket for an site-specific art installation.