Harold Ancart’s painted handball court installation begins at Cadman Plaza

A conceptual rendering of Harold Ancart’s “Standard subliminal”. Courtesy of Harold Ancart

Contemporary art and recreational sport will soon become one at Cadman Plaza Park in downtown Brooklyn.

Construction of the ‘Subliminal Standard’, a large-scale painted and playable handball court by Harold Ancart, is underway at the north end of the park.

The piece, commissioned by the Public art fund, opens May 1 and lasts 10 months until March 1.

Installation of the ‘Subliminal Standard’, a large-scale, playable painted handball court by Harold Ancart, has started at the north end of the park. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Ancart fell in love with the handball courts, which he called “democratic walls, awaiting murals,” as he strolled through his Brooklyn neighborhood, according to the fund’s associate curator Daniel S. Palmer.

“He was really inspired by the handball courts that are ubiquitous in New York City,” Palmer told the Brooklyn eagle. “The city has over 2,000 courts, many of which were built during the Great Depression, and they’re really meant to be a democratic place for sport.

“The game itself is so egalitarian and was started by immigrants and the working class. All you need is a ball to play with, which you can buy very cheaply and then hit against a wall, which is really public equipment.

Ancart will paint the walls and floor of the two-sided sculpture 16 feet high and 26 feet wide. (The floor will be 40 feet long by 30 feet wide.)

The play shines a light on a quintessentially New York City game, played in parks and schoolyards across the city, and marks the Brooklyn-based Belgian artist’s first public art commission in the United States. .

“There is a large central expanse, an open area with beautiful London planets all around, and this artist’s painted sculpture is going to fit very well into that area,” said associate curator Daniel S. Palmer. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Not only will viewers be able to play around with the concrete sculpture, but they will also get to see the artist painting in April – a rare site for someone who normally works within the confines of a private studio. In preparation for the larger project, Ancart built smaller scale models of plywood handball courts.

“Harold was also inspired by murals and mural painting, as a visual correlative,” Palmer said. “It’s about bringing beauty directly to people without having to go to a museum or pay a lot of money to see art in a private collection.

“Beauty and composition are presented in a way we could never experience with a painting on the wall.”

“Subliminal Standard” also shows the ease with which one can transform and beautify blank walls into usable surfaces.

“Harold was particularly inspired by the accidental compositions that appear on these handball walls when worn or damaged and then typically repaired by the city,” said Palmer.

“When they’re repaired – to repair graffiti – it’s usually done in a way that produces a vernacular painting. Often the paintings in the city don’t exactly match the original color and texture of the paintings that had been on the wall for some time.

Originally introduced by Irish immigrants at the end of the 19th century, according to NYC Parks, handball was primarily played by the working class and immigrant New York.

Handball historians once claimed that Brooklyn had the first handball court in America, according to the United States Handball Association, but it was later discovered that two courts had been built earlier in San Francisco.

The game is still popular in New York City with over 2,000 courts spread across the five boroughs.

The exhibition marks a return to Cadman Plaza of the fusion of art and sport. One of the fund’s most famous exhibitions, “Higher Goals” by David Hammons, was shown in the green space in 1986. It featured basketball hoops on dazzled telephone poles covered with eccentric objects.

One of the Public Art Fund's most famous exhibitions, “Higher Goals” by David Hammons, was presented at Cadman Plaza Park in 1986. Photo by Pinkney Herbert / Jennifer Secor, courtesy of the Public Art Fund
One of the Public Art Fund’s most famous exhibitions, “Higher Goals” by David Hammons, was presented at Cadman Plaza Park in 1986. Photo by Pinkney Herbert / Jennifer Secor, courtesy of the Public Art Fund

Likewise, this is not the first time that the Public Art Fund has commissioned an artist to present a New York staple. Erwin Wurm’s “Hot Dog Bus,” which debuted last June, featured a vintage Volkswagen Microbus that has been transformed into a bloated and bizarre hot dog stand. The iconic Big Apple street food was originally immigrant food and also had roots in Brooklyn.

The organization commissioned several other significant pieces in Brooklyn Heights and downtown Brooklyn that also complemented and played out the surrounding urban environment.

“Bridge Over Tree” by Iranian artist Siah Armajani is currently playing at Brooklyn Bridge Park. The artwork features a 91-foot-long walkway with a set of stairs that ascend and descend on a single evergreen tree. It is located between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.

In May 2017, the group brought “Descension” from Anish Kapoor, a 26-foot-wide hot tub, to Pier 1 in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

A year earlier, the group had installed Martin Creed’s “Understanding,” a 25-foot-tall rotating neon sculpture, at Pier 6.

The association also exhibited “Please Touch The Art” by Jeppe Hein in the park in May 2015, which featured a series of interactive sculptures, mirrors and fountains.

Not far from Cadman Plaza, the Public Art Fund also installed “Fences” by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in a bus shelter in downtown Brooklyn.

“Subliminal Standard” will be on display at Cadman Plaza Park from May 1 to March 1, 2020.

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.