A Love-Themed Spectacle for Times Sq.

February 9, 2009, 2:59 pm

By Jennifer 8. Lee
Marilynn K. Yee/The New York TimesA pulsing metallic heart may be Times Square’s answer to the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. The heart arrived in Times Square on Sunday. See a Slide Show

Times Square has found its Valentine’s Day’s counterpart to the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree: a 10-foot-tall pulsing metallic heart that could serve as a photogenic backdrop for couples who want to record their own kiss at the crossroads of the world.

The heart, installed over the weekend and scheduled to be up for about two weeks, is just south of the spiffy new TKTS booth in Duffy Square, reflecting the garish glow of Times Square and generating its own light from LED cubes.

While it’s not quite the Gates of Central Park or the waterfalls in the East River, the heart may resonate widely with New Yorkers and tourists.

Done by a wholly New York team — unlike the other two public art projects — it unites artistic, industrial and commercial elements of the city: young Lower East Side architects, Queens auto body shop welders, Brooklyn manufacturers, and one of the most highly trafficked, advertisement-laden arenas in the world.

The design started out as a Christmas tree. As part of an ambitious expansion of its public art mission, the Times Square Alliance had reached out to three architecture and artist teams for innovative proposals for last holiday season. The original conception, submitted by Gage/Clemenceau Architects, was cone-shaped, and it would flash between the blue and silver of Hannukah to the red and green of Christmas to the black, green and red of Kwanzaa.

After the project failed to start on time, one of the designers, Mark Foster Gage, sent an image to the alliance in which two of the Christmas trees forms had been turned upside down, melded together and colored pink and red. How about a Valentine’s Day project? he joked.

The Alliance employees passed the design around in the office; they were hooked. The first meeting for the February project was Dec. 8, setting off a scramble to get things ready.

The costs of materials and labor for the heart would have totaled around $100,000. But with in-kind donations and discounts, the total cash outlay was $20,000 to $30,000. Du Pont donated pink translucent Corian (yes, as in the countertop material).

Evans & Paul of Long Island, molded the Corian into panels with heart-shaped indentions. Serino Hot Rod of Long Island City, Queens, which soups up cars for $15,000 to $30,000, donated its labor. Milgo/Bufkin, a family-owned manufacturing shop in Williamsburg, donated and cut the delicate metal panels.

The alliance, which hired a public art coordinator just six months ago, hopes to make Times Square one of the most prominent locales for public art in the United States, said Tim Tompkins, its president. Among the spots that it is offering are Duffy Square, the Military Island, vacant store fronts, building lobbies and construction scaffolds.

As far as a theme, starting points include sex and desire (a reference to the square’s seedier past), commerce and culture, urban density and diversity, globalism, communication, and theatricality (a nod to Broadway).

Amid its many opportunities, Times Square also presented some obstacles. Electricity, for example. For all the bright lights and flashing neon, there was only a single outlet out of the TKTS booth to power the whole heart.

“We’re doing LED because in the middle of Times Square, they only have two plugs,” Mr. Gage said wryly. Energy-efficient LEDs will not only power the heart, but will also be placed along the ground to cast light onto those posing near it. The effect was inspired by watching the red carpet at the Golden Globe Awards, where the underglow removes shadows from celebrity faces.

“It makes you look thinner, too,” said Marc Clemenceau Bailey, Mr. Gage’s partner in the six-person architecture shop.

So, will the heart definitely be removed after just a few weeks?

That’s the plan, Mr. Gage said. But he added: “Who knows? The Eiffel Tower was supposed to be temporary.” The search is on for a home for the heart post-Times Square. Meanwhile, Mr. Tompkins said, the formal unveiling is scheduled for Feb. 13.

City Room pointed out that that was a Friday. Maybe unveiling a heart on Friday the 13th wasn’t the greatest idea?

Mr. Tompkins paused to reconsider: “Maybe we would do it on the 12th.”

Marilynn K. Yee/The New York TimesBefore it made the trip to Times Square, a steel and acrylic heart was put together at Serino Hot Rod in Long Island City, Queens.

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