by Sarah McCully
It’s hard to miss the bright colors dotting David Geffen Hall’s typically neutral facade. Since early October of last year, the newly renovated concert hall’s northern windows have played host to a temporary art installation called “San Juan Heal” by artist Nina Chanel Abney, a tribute to the artistic and historic legacy of the Black and Puerto Rican neighborhood razed so Lincoln Center and other cultural campuses could stand.
“San Juan Heal” is massive and unmissable, panels of latex ink printed vinyl covering 35 windows and spanning 150 horizontal feet. The panels depict a mixture of figures, messages, and other graphic images that each reference pivotal themes related to San Juan Hill’s place in the city’s history and cultural imagination. Musicians like James P. Johnson and Thelonious Monk (who lived in the Phipps Houses as a child) have their place here, as do healthcare workers Elizabeth Tyler and Edith Carter. The piece’s rainbow geometry pops out amidst the concrete and cars of Broadway, placing at least a part of the neighborhood back in the context of the complex that replaced it.
Nina Chanel Abney is no stranger to the sheer brightness and scale exemplified by “San Juan Heal.” Her work often embraces a similar vibrancy, using color and graphic shapes to depict human and abstract figures that raise subjects like race, queerness, and the frenzied nature of modern life. Abney’s art has been featured in collections around the world, including in “the Brooklyn Museum, The Rubell Family Collection, Bronx Museum, and the Burger Collection, Hong Kong.”