On May 17, 2019, ten special birds will return home to roost on Broadway. However, this isn’t a normal migration. This journey is the result of a multi-year project created by Nicolas Holiber, a Brooklyn-based artist who is known for his large-scale public works and mixed-media paintings. The installation, Nicolas Holiber: Birds on Broadway, the Audubon Sculpture Project, features ten oversized sculptures of New York City birds that are in danger of extinction due to climate change. The sculptures will be displayed along the Broadway malls, a tree-lined greenway between 64th and 157th Streets in Manhattan, and will be on view through January 2020. Holiber is the youngest artist to have a solo exhibition presented by the Broadway Mall Association; this installation will be his second time showing with NYC Parks. Partnering entities Gitler & Gallery and the New York City Audubon Society supported Holiber to create the work in an effort to raise awareness about a group of more than 300 imperiled birds in North America.
Holiber’s sculptures often consist of reclaimed wood sourced from the ubiquitous shipping pallets that dot the city streets, and the Broadway Mall Association installation is no different. Through sponsorships and the artist’s own amassing, each sculpture is made entirely out of reclaimed lumber. This artistic conservation is both practical and conceptual. Although painted, the wood used for the sculptures will not be weatherproofed. Instead, each work will be left untreated to allow for the city’s natural forces to affect it, highlighting the environmental challenges faced by each species. Holiber’s intent, to lend meaning and subject matter to objects that previously had neither, is amplified when paired with the exhibition’s alarming message about climate change.
Over the past several years Holiber has carefully studied sites along Broadway, choosing locations in the many and diverse neighborhoods along the boulevard to display his work. Placing the large, colorful sculptures in settings that will take New Yorkers by surprise and remind them that the urban environment is a natural environment, Holiber’s work is sure to catch the eye of any hurried passerby. The nine-foot-tall mother Red-Necked Grebe sits across from Lincoln Center, seemingly at home with her chicks in a small triangular park, while at 72nd Street Peregrine Falcon, with a wingspan of almost ten feet, has just won his next meal. There is also the eight-foot-tall Double-Crested Cormorant, a species that frequently visits Central Park, drying its wings at 105th Street, and the eleven-foot-long Wood Duck, one of the most colorful birds in North America, resting at 157th Street next to Audubon Terrace. A closer inspection of the work and signage will reveal not only the artist’s unique process, inspired by the conceivably never-ending act of reconstruction and deconstruction, but also information about each species that includes climate-related threats and future habitat projections, offered in both English and Spanish.
The ten birds in this exhibition were chosen from the Birds and Climate Change Report, released in 2014 by the National Audubon Society. This study warned that half of all North American bird species will be imperiled over the coming decades due to shifting and contracting habitat zones resulting from climate change. From among the 145 threatened species that reside in or migrate through New York, Holiber decided to showcase the American bittern, brant, common goldeneye, double-crested cormorant, hooded merganser, peregrine falcon, red-necked grebe, scarlet tanager, snowy owl, and wood duck. In addition to raising awareness for this serious cause, Nicolas Holiber: Birds on Broadway, the Audubon Sculpture Project reflects the role of urban green space, such as the Broadway malls, in countering climate change by producing oxygen, moderating temperatures, and providing bird habitat.