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Sculpting the Public: Teresita Fernández Wants You In Her Work
Modern Painters

By Juliet Helmke


“I was determined that I did not want to make something in the middle of the oval,” Teresita Fernández says of her recent Madison Square Park public commission, Fata Morgana, on view through winter of 2016. She had already used the grassy space of this 
New York park in 2001 for the first public work she ever made, Bamboo Cinema. This time, however, the artist decided to work with a part of the park that was more actively used: the paths. “They’re animated and defined by being used by people. I wanted to try to make something that shifted and distorted one’s ideas of that type of space.” Constructed from more than 250 plates of golden, mirror-polished metal cut into wavy latticelike shapes and mounted on steel scaffolding in layers overhead, the piece immediately alters the body language of those who step under it, causing people to look up and catch their reflections spliced between snippets of treetops, buildings, and sky.


Fernández found inspiration for the piece in some simple line drawings made by Wifredo Lam to accompany the publication of a 1940 book-length poem by André Breton, also titled Fata Morgana. Human forms morph into abstract patterns and representations 
of real and imagined flora and fauna. Fernández liked the way Lam’s figures were integrated into the landscape and set out to make something similar happen for viewers of her piece. “You have this mirrored reflection, and then you have people folded and stuck in between it but constantly, in this very prismatic way, shifting.” Lam’s two-dimensional pictorial drawings may seem like obscure references for this abstract, sculptural work, but what links the artists is their reverence for the human body: for Lam, representing its interaction with its surroundings; for Fernández, manipulating that relationship.