Catherine Huff: The Art Field Project on the Upper West Side

Riverside Library
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We are excited to introduce our featured community art and exploration project: The
Art Field Project
. Art enthusiast, optimist, and self-described museum dropout Catherine Huff walks across New York City exploring neighborhood art and its local value.

As a newcomer to the Upper West Side, Catherine wanted to better learn the
neighborhood, so she began seeking art. She turns to an array of community
members as her guides, inverting conventional perceptions of an “art expert” or the “art
field.” Locals point Catherine to art that they define as art and that they find meaningful,
remarkable, or somehow significant for their particular neighborhood.
Through an ever-growing, community-powered interactive art map, as well as a
collection of profiles on Instagram, the Art Field Project encourages curiosity,
community inquiry, and accessible art appreciation for everyone. Read about
Catherine’s artful explorations below!


An Interview with Catherine Huff

Q: What is the Art Field Project?
A: I ask strangers across different neighborhoods, “What art in the neighborhood is
meaningful to you?” From there, I find the artwork for myself, research it, and then plot it
on the Art Field Interactive Map. More times than not, I am moved by compelling
responses by people from all walks of life! In those instances, I invite participants to
meet with me at the art spot so we can delve a little deeper into their connection with
the artwork. Through my work, I aim to encourage neighborhood exploration, art
appreciation and human connection, which I believe is needed these days. The Art Field
Project is essentially documentation of this entire creative pursuit.

Q: How did you get started?
A: When I moved to New York City last year, I was lucky enough to land smack dab in the middle of the Upper West Side. There were some months where I had a difficult time finding work in the art field to supplement grad school expenses, so I’d aimlessly walk the neighborhood…to keep my spirits up and also get my bearings. The art historian in me was excited by the sheer amount of incredible neighborhood art I stumbled across. As I became more invested in uncovering art for myself, I realized that 1) I needed the community to guide me, a newcomer, to more art and 2) all this data might be a useful resource for others! Thus, the Art Field Project was created. Today, I’m busier than ever with work, but I make a concerted effort to complete my daily neighborhood art explorations. I find something new almost every day and it gives me an added sense of purpose.

Q: What role does public art have in society? What are its benefits?
A: While I appreciate the visual excitement that art brings to public spaces, I am
more so excited by the way that art gets our minds moving. Artists have this
incredible knack of stopping us in our tracks, complicating the status quo, and
offering different perspectives than our own.
When we experience art of all types, we are taken outside of ourselves and have an
opportunity to step a little closer to someone else. When we challenge ourselves to
think about art out loud, we open moments of emotional exchange and
communication with others. This is pivotal for all communities, especially now. Art
alone can’t improve the world, but I see it as a valuable agent of change: it brings us
together and gets us talking.

Q: What inspires you when it comes to your work?
A: I’ve come to appreciate a whole new aspect of the “art field”, hence the name.
The fine art world doesn’t always do the best job of making art an accessible thing to
experience or talk about. When someone says to me that they don’t know anything
about art and that they probably wouldn’t have a good response to my question, I
take that as a challenge to prove them wrong. I sometimes get the best responses
from people with no art education at all and it’s exciting to see the change in attitude
when you simply say, “I value what you have to tell me.” I am most inspired by
hearing the personal meaning others find in art and experiencing how that meaning
develops as we talk about it some more.

Q: When sharing your work, what would be the number one thing you want the public to take away from it?
AI want to highlight the value that comes from following your innate passions and
curiosities, while also thinking of ways to bring joy to those around you. Challenge
yourself: Find ways to get closer and friendlier with your neighbors – I do it through
art. How would you do it?

Q: What art is meaningful to YOU on the Upper West Side?
A: My neighbor G. Augustine Lynas, an artist, gave me a burst of initial inspiration and
drive for this project. One day, we were walking in the neighborhood when he pointed out some strange looking gargoyles flanking his building’s entrance. Upon closer inspection, I realized they weren’t your standard New York City gargoyles. Lynas had modeled them out of clay and installed them himself…they are incredible. I had lived on his street for nearly a year and never noticed them, hidden below suffocating scaffolding. This is just one example of the less-than-obvious, incredible art that lives on New York City streets and why I make a pointed effort to seek art every day in our neighborhood.

Gargoles LYNAS

-Gargoyles handcrafted by artist G. Augustine Lynas at 233 W. 83rd Street [Upper West Side]. Mapped as meaningful by Catherine Huff: “These inspired my project.”

The Peace Fountain

Huff, Catherine 2022

The Peace Fountain by Greg Wyatt at St. John the Divine Cathedral, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue [Upper West Side]. Mapped as meaningful by Elizabeth G.: "Since I was a kid, I’ve loved the Peace Fountain at St. John’s Cathedral. “Peace” Fountain sounds so chill but it’s got a decapitated Satan on a giant crab, and it is METAL."
Gallery B

Huff, Catherine (2022)

A mysterious shape of a human on a wall at Columbus Avenue and W. 78th Street [Upper West Side]. Mapped as meaningful by Yardenne G.: “I think it’s just a little piece of beauty. A little thing that makes you smile. It would be a shame if they “fixed” [the wall].”
Isidor and Ida Straus sculpture
Isidor and Ida Straus sculpture by Augustus Lukeman at Straus Park, Broadway and 106th Street [Upper West Side]. Mapped as meaningful by Jim Mackin, author of “Notable New Yorkers of Manhattan’s Upper West Side”.
Sandbox Sculpture
Sandbox Sculpture by G. Augustine Lynas at River Run Playground at Riverside Park, West 83rd Street and Riverside Drive [Upper West Side]. The artist told me, “The worst thing that happens to people is they grow up and stop playing.”
Ceramic tile of a bird
Mundillo (Little World) sculpture by Samantha Holmes at Amsterdam Avenue and W. 97th Street [Upper West Side]. Mapped as meaningful by Min W., an international student from China: “I like the shadow this produces, similar to the shadows of the trees around it. I don’t think it’s easy [to navigate NYC]. I just stick to this neighborhood. There are many trees and plants.”
Ceramic tile of a bird at 100 W
Ceramic tile of a bird at 100 W. 78th Street [Upper West Side]. Mapped as meaningful by Corey W.: “Sometimes I was jealous of birds during the pandemic. We were stuck when they weren’t.”
If you would like to submit art that is meaningful to you on the Upper West Side, be sure
to check out the website to fill out the community response
form and follow @artfieldproject on Instagram!