Westhampton Beach sculpture appears at Gabreski Airport

A 30-foot-tall aluminum statue has appeared at Francis

A 30-foot-tall aluminum statue has appeared at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton. (Credit: Veronique Louis)

To Westhampton Beach Village officials, the 30-foot aluminum woman seemed to materialize at their border out of the fog one misty evening.

To the Plainview-based developer who placed it there, it's potentially "another piece of iconic artwork that will be added into the landscape of the East End."

And to residents, some of whom are returning to summer homes for the season, it has yet to be judged.

"Walking Figure," as the towering sculpture is known, appeared at Francis S. Gabreski Airport last week, to the surprise of some passing on Old Riverhead Road, a main thoroughfare to the Hamptons. The 5,000-pound sculpture stands on a concrete base and depicts a woman with a rectangular torso striding forward, arms mid-swing.

Rechler Equity Partners, developer of an industrial park at the airport, installed the colossus last Tuesday and Wednesday in the center of a traffic circle near the entrance of the project site.

"I actually saw it the other night in the fog," said Patricia DiBenedetto, a Westhampton Beach Village trustee. "It was kind of ominous-looking."

Some passersby pulled off the road to get a closer look, snap photos or ask questions as workers hoisted the sculpture into place using a crane, said some of those who were present.

Mitchell Rechler, a managing partner of Rechler Equity Partners, said he welcomes strong reactions.

"Whenever artwork is placed in a public setting, it will cause discussion, which is part of the reason why art is created in the first place," said Rechler, whose family has displayed sculptures at several of its developments. "We were sensitive to not have a 'controversial' piece. We think that this piece is beautiful."

The "Walking Figure" may step into the latest statue standoff on Long Island. A 33-foot-tall bronze sculpture of a nude, pregnant woman on a historic estate in Old Westbury has caused such furor among neighbors that the village board is expected to consider a new law to limit the height of accessory structures, including statues.

DiBenedetto said local residents' reactions to the Rechler statue have been muted, but she is bracing for questions from constituents.

"Give it this weekend and it will be conversation," she said Friday.

In April, Rechler Equity Partners broke ground on the Hampton Business District, which will consist of nine buildings on vacant county-owned land at the airport.

Westhampton Beach has no jurisdiction over the site, which is just outside its borders near a well-traveled entrance to the village.

"I'm not a connoisseur of art, so what can I say?" Mayor Conrad Teller said. "I have a lot of people who have seen it and don't think it belongs [at] an airport. They think it looks like Olive Oyl of 'Popeye.' "

Donald Baechler, the Manhattan-based artist who designed the piece, said it "embodies the concept of forward motion." Made of an aluminum shell crisscrossed with aluminum beams, it was forged at a foundry in Tempe, Arizona, before it was trucked cross-country.

"The 'Walking Figure' is always going into the future, going into whatever," he said. "I think the whole idea of an airport is exactly about that, going from one place to another. It seems like not an inappropriate subject."

Landscaping will eventually cover the concrete base of the sculpture, and the aluminum will darken over time, Baechler said.

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