Ashes and Snow

By Tara Renee Settembre

April 10, 2005

First The Gates, a large scale public art project, overtook Central Park. Now, Ashes and Snow, a photography exhibit, literally sits atop the Hudson River on Pier 54 near West 13th Street. It is also the largest temporary exhibition space ever created in Manhattan.

Built on an abandoned waterfront pier, the Nomadic Museum, a 67-foot-wide by 672-foot-long, privately-funded traveling museum is made of 148 stacked steel cargo shipping containers. Designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, the exhibition, Ashes and Snow, consists of portraits taken by Canadian-born artist Gregory Colbert.

Elementary school teacher, Heidi Laudien, 38, said she plans to bring her students to the sight.

“I love the idea of a museum made from recycled materials and I want my kids to see that creative part of the exhibit and how it illustrates the transience of the space,” she said.

The exhibit and the museum will be displayed through June 6 in the 45,000-square-foot temporary structure. Afterwards, it will be dismantled and resurrected in Santa Monica, Calif, then off to the Vatican City in 2006, as it continues on its nomadic adventure.

Colbert is no stranger to traveling either. His work features portraits of exotic animals and natives from his visits to places like India, Egypt, Burma, Sri Lanka, Kenya and Ethiopia.

His sepia colored photographs are printed on leather looking parchment paper and held up by wires and hanging on an invisible wall along the lengths of the pier. The scenes depicted include large animals like elephants, whales, manatees, eagles, with much smaller mammals---children.

One photo has a child kissing a cheetah, another shows a man swimming under water with a 55-ton sperm whale, and one has a woman dancing near an adult elephant. These outrageous shots have caused visitors to question how Colbert did it. A volunteer at the museum said Colbert’s process will not be revealed. In a statement released by his foundation Colbert says none of images have been superimposed or digitally collaged. He plans to add new pieces to the show each time the museum moves to another destination.

Lisa Schreder, 25, a Manhattan paralegal saw the posters for the exhibit advertised on the subway and decided to come after work with her boyfriend, lawyer David Sandler, 26.

“I’m as interested in the pictures as the museum itself. It feels like a monastery, soothing and spiritual,” said Schreder.

Sandler was impressed with how the photographs were displayed. He said, “The presentation matches with the pictures and lighting, the water underneath, continues the feeling of water and motion that can be seen in the photos, it feels like the whole thing is floating, like the suspended photos.”

Besides the hanging photographs, there is also a 35mm film, revealing Colbert’s video photography on a big screen. Several scenes include a woman swaying to new age music while bathing with elephants.

Sylvia Wolff, 32, a dance student at NYU’s Tisch School said she liked the pictures more than the movie, because she said, “The pictures are more suggestive and require more imagination.”

Artist and clay sculptor, Stephanie Borgese on the other hand, felt the opposite. “The film enhanced the artwork. It gave the images a sense of motion and place,” she said.

Borgese admits she was overcome by the artistic experience. “I cried a few times,” she said. “They are magical and breathtaking images.”