Brown Alumna Transforms NYC Park With 265 Miles of Rope

Give Orly Genger enough rope and she’ll astonish.

The New York-based artist has a huge installation in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park created with hand-knotted, painted rope that spirals around trees. It’s named after Barnett Newman’s series “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?”

The 34-year-old Brown University graduate works in a studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and on the side collaborates with designer Jaclyn Mayer on rope-based jewelry.

We spoke at Madison Square Park, surrounded by her work, a few days after the unveiling of “Red, Yellow and Blue.”

Rosboch: How did the project start?

Genger: About two and a half years ago I was invited to propose something for the park. So I walked around it, looked at people, and two things popped up. One was that I felt like the ground was really flat and I wanted to create some vertical element.

The other was that a lot of people used the park to cross from east to west and vice versa. I wanted to give them places inside the park where they could stop and feel embraced by the space.

Enough Rope

Rosboch: You used a huge amount of rope.

Genger: Something like 1.4 million feet. It’s all reclaimed lobster rope. Fishermen from all across the Eastern Seaboard sold it to us. It was a wonderful bonus to recycle material that otherwise would have probably been dumped in the ocean.

The rope was delivered to my studio in big boxes, all mangled and in knots. It stank of the sea and came with fish, lobster claws and all kinds of stuff. There was a lot of cleaning, a lot of dirty work.

Then, with a team varying from two to seven people, we untangled it and literally hand-knotted every bit of it, without using any tools -- and some of the strips go to about 150 feet! Then we primed it and painted it.

My mission for those two years of preparation was to produce enough material so that when I got to the park I could play around as much as I needed to. And that’s really when the creative process began.

It took about two weeks to install. We also repainted the pieces at the very end to really have a color block.

Intuitive Decisions

Rosboch: Did you already have the piece figured out?

Genger: No, but to me one of the most exciting parts is installing, and really, while you’re installing, making intuitive decisions, which becomes very challenging when you work on large scale.

Rosboch: The works are vaguely reminiscent of Richard Serra.

Genger: There are many artists that I think about, that always inform my work. Serra is one of them, Oldenburg another, and many more. But I was inspired most by the surroundings, by the site.

And I hope that my work doesn’t always have to reference another artist and can stand on its own.

Rosboch: You recently said, “If I could put my body into my work that would be the ultimate.” Marina Abramovic comes to mind.

Tactile Desire

Genger: That’s interesting. There’s just a very tactile desire to really give as much as I can to the work. And the immediate reaction is that my self is as much as I could possibly give. That’s where the idea comes from.

I’ve also done performances in the past and will probably do more in the future. And I always say that I think my work is performance-based because the process is so visible that people immediately imagine what it would take to make it. And the process of making is itself a performance.

“Red, Yellow and Blue” is at Madison Square Park through Sept. 8. It will then be reinstalled at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Information:

(Lili Rosboch writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

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