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Pace Galleries

Byrne-ing Down the World

At the West 25th Street lot recently acquired by the Pace Gallery, visitors are encouraged to touch and squeeze the outsized inflatable globe that David Byrne has crammed beneath the elevated tracks of the High Line. But the public's interaction with "Tight Spot," the temporary sound and sculpture piece inaugurating this space, may not be quite as tactile an experience as the artist and Talking Heads frontman first had himself. "It was fun when we were doing the tests—it wasn't fully inflated and you could kind of squeeze through the wall," Mr. Byrne said, flattening the backs of his hands against his face, mumbling, "and get totally squished by this thing. When we got it to full 100% inflation I realized you can't do that anymore. You'd get pinned in there and get suffocated." The finished, less viewer-endangering work, which opens to the public on Friday, is 48-feet-by-20 feet of fan-powered, plastic-coated fabric. It appears to strain against the Highline's support beams and the confining brick walls of this otherwise vacant outdoor space. Speakers inside the globe emit a looped series of watery basso heartbeats, created by Mr. Byrne's filtered voice. Though "Tight Spot" is inspired by the pastel Mercator projection globes found in grade-school classrooms, Mr. Byrne admits it technically isn't even a sphere. "But I think it's believable that maybe it could be, which is the most important [thing]," he said. While planning the installation, Mr. Byrne took photographs of the space and painted his idea of a giant globe balloon. He ordered inflatable beach-ball globes and began playing with them, deflating and mashing them to see if they could achieve the bulging shapes he imagined. The Pace Gallery production team built a miniature model of the Highline and he jammed the beach balls in there, too. "The space is wider than it looks, and if we took a spherical globe and squished it, most of the continents would be lost underneath or on top," Mr. Byrne said. "You would end up seeing just a strip in the middle between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, which really wouldn't give you the impression. So we thought, 'Well, we can cheat.'" The resulting ovoid is about three or four feet wider than what can actually be accommodated in the lot, Mr. Byrne said. "[The goal was] to get enough of the bulging ... that it not fit neatly, but that it be too big." Though he and the gallery made the initial renderings and models, the inflatable work was outsourced to a company in Minneapolis called Landmark Creations, whose work typically leans toward portable batting cages and mascots. While it's possible to see a slice of sky just above either edge of the globe, due to the low buildings on either side, it's not possible to see all the way around the globe, though Mr. Byrne asserts that all of the necessary countries and continents are indeed there. Australia is toward the back, with a giant zipper running across the continent for access to the globe's inner machinery. The work itself also obscures some of the residual Chelsea grime that once populated the lot, previously used by the garage next door: There are still parked cars behind the installation, obscured by a chain link fence and tarp—"so people couldn't get in and stab it with knives or whatever," Mr. Byrne said—in the West 24th Street lot that backs up into the Pace space. After "Tight Spot" is taken down, Pace will begin preparation for a Bill Katz-designed spacem which will be connected to the gallery next door at 510 W. 25th Street, also owned by the art-world giant. Mr. Byrne currently has two pieces in the "Social Media" group show at the 510 gallery: a series of fake iPhone apps and a tessellation of digital photo frames showing fighting parliamentarians.
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