Chandeliers made of repurposed plastic bottles hang above Park Avenue

August 14, 2023

All photos courtesy of Zach Pontz

A new installation along Park Avenue transforms trash into environmentally-mindful works of art. Artist Willie Cole designed four large-scale chandeliers made of 9,000 recycled plastic water bottles that can now be seen on the medians at 69th and 70th Streets. Titled “3000 Buddha Chandelier,” “Liberty Lantern,” “Soul Catcher,” and “Dirt Devil,” the sculptures aim to address the need for clean drinking water while recognizing the environmental damage caused by plastic bottles.

Photo courtesy of Willie Cole

The art pieces were commissioned by the Fund for Park Avenue and the New York City Parks Department and created by Cole during his 2023 residency at Express Newark, a socially-conscious art and design center that is affiliated with Rutgers University.

As the New York Times reported, the chandeliers carry on Cole’s practice of repurposing ready-made objects as materials paired with his advocacy to address environmental issues.

In 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency declared Newark’s water supply unsafe to drink and required the city to replace roughly 23,000 lines of deteriorating lead pipes. Cole, who grew up in the city during the 1960s, was inspired to touch on the pressing issue through his art.

Using metal wire, Cole, Rutgers students, and members of the Newark community wove together thousands of recycled into elaborate shapes. The sculpture series aims to address the “world-wide issue of the single-use plastic bottle,” and highlight the need for fresh drinking water while “acknowledging the damage caused to the environment by its disposal,” according to a press release.

“It’s not always easy to open up perception and see familiar objects in a fresh way. 9000 disposed water bottles created 4 beautiful chandeliers,” Cole says.

“The elegance of a Park Avenue address led me to choose chandeliers for my installation. The struggle between beauty and ugliness is embedded in my chandeliers: trash as treasure as teacher.”

Over the course of his career, Cole has used discarded items like shoes, steam irons, and musical instruments. One of his sculptures, Shine, is made from black high-heeled pumps and is currently on view in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Afrofuturist room. In May 2022, Cole debuted No Strings, a solo exhibition featuring sculptures made of guitars that were presented at the Alexander and Bonin art gallery.


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