He Built a Line, Then Crossed It

“Torqued Jetty” (Photo by Sean Doherty)

“Torqued Jetty” (Photo by Sean Doherty)

Scenic Hudson not a fan of guerrilla art installation

In April, Thomas Bregman, the former head of the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum, began stacking rocks along the river at Long Dock Park in Beacon.

“Dozens of people stopped to ask, ‘Are you building a wall?’ ” Bregman said this week. “I’d say, ‘Well, yeah, and…’ From that came the most fascinating conversations.”

With a tip of the hat to Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty,” which Bregman visited last year in Utah, and Andy Goldsworthy’s curving stone wall at the Storm King Art Center, Bregman was constructing what he called “Torqued Jetty,” a 3-foot-high, 63-foot-long stone wave that snaked into the Hudson River. 

“It leads to people paying closer attention to the river,” he said. “It’s funny that a human addition seems to do that.”

Bregman chose the spot because this stretch of the river is usually the location of the salt front, the shifting barrier between the salt water flowing up from the Atlantic Ocean and the fresh water flowing down from Lake Tear of the Clouds in the Adirondacks. It’s also in the shadow of Storm King, the site of the decades-long legal battle to stop a power plant that led to the formation of Scenic Hudson.

Bregman spent several hours a day working on the sculpture, several days a week, for months. In addition to enlisting passersby to help pick up trash, he had conversations about ecology, hydrology, philosophy, Beacon’s art scene and Scenic Hudson’s work in the environmental movement.

Notably, Bregman didn’t have a conversation with Scenic Hudson, which manages Long Dock Park. That resulted in a series of mutually unpleasant confrontations that culminated in Scenic Hudson last week dismantling Bregman’s work with a skid steer.

Scenic Hudson dismantled Bregman's creations on Aug. 8. Photo by B. Cronin

Scenic Hudson dismantled Bregman’s creations on Aug. 8. (Photo by B. Cronin)

Bregman said he purposely didn’t ask for permission because he thought of his work as guerilla art. “The work of guerilla and street artists can be disturbing to authorities and the general public exactly because it doesn’t align with acceptable forms of artistic expression and creativity,” he said, explaining why he thinks it was dismantled. 

Or, it might have been the chain saw.

“Hudson Waves”

“Hudson Waves” (Photo provided)

When an intense summer storm washed up a hefty log against “Torqued Jetty,” Bregman made a series of cuts to create “Hudson Waves.” His chain saw was loud enough to attract the attention of park staff, who told him he was disrupting the natural ecology of the shoreline. Bregman countered that nothing about the Long Dock shoreline is natural: It’s fill left over from the former port, and the rocks he hauled out were ship ballast. 

Bregman was asked to cease, desist and leave, but he returned the next day to add five final cuts. As soon as he fired up the chain saw, park staff reappeared. This was followed by a cease-and-desist letter, and then the skid steer. 

Public art can still be found at Long Dock. George Trakas’ “Beacon Point” has been there since 2007, created in collaboration with Scenic Hudson and Dia:Beacon. And many children build driftwood huts and other structures.

Scenic Hudson said that unless those structures disrupt the ecology or involve power tools, its policy has been to let the elements dismantle them. It also said that, had Bregman asked for permission, the situation might have ended differently. 

“He could have simply approached us beforehand, so our ecology and parks experts could review the idea, perhaps even collaborate to help create an installation that considers the river ecology and public safety,” said Seth McKee, executive director of The Scenic Hudson Land Trust. “But he took it upon himself to decide what is best for Long Dock Park with disregard for others who are connected to that place — a place many others cherish as it is.” 

“I’m a fan of Bregman’s art but not of his approach,” added Riley Johndonnell, director of communications for Scenic Hudson.We can all empathize with how the world can feel a bit upside down these days, but I’m not sure where and when it is acceptable to arrive, uninvited, to a natural sanctuary with an unsanctioned chain saw, do what you wish, how you wish, and disregard the property owner’s posted signs and requests to stop.”

Thomas Bregman and the remains of “Torqued Jetty” at Long Dock ParkPhoto by B. Cronin

Thomas Bregman and the remains of “Torqued Jetty” at Long Dock Park (Photo by B. Cronin)

Bregman said he doesn’t dispute the facts, and doesn’t harbor any ill will toward Scenic Hudson, an organization that he said he reveres. He concedes that returning with his chain saw was “poking them in the eye.”

He’s also came to realize that “Torqued Jetty” did have an effect on the ecosystem. Standing on its remnants, he pointed out how ducks would shelter in the curves of the structure during heavy winds, and how the jetty broke the energy of the waves, leading to sediment buildup in different places.

He always figured the wall would be dismantled by the elements — so, in his view, it was simply hastened along. He also wanted to forge a more intimate relationship with the land, and in that regard, the project was successful. “I remember moving some of these individual pieces,” he said. He pointed to a particularly large rock. “That one was tough.”

Bregman said his next project will be “Scorched Earth,” an installation he’s creating in Newburgh with his partner, Amy Bandolik, that will reproduce the aftermath of a destructive wildfire.

He has the permission of the property owner.

3 thoughts on “He Built a Line, Then Crossed It

  1. Scenic Hudson accuses Thomas Bregman of “disrupting the natural ecology of the shoreline.” It sounds like what Scenic Hudson wants to do to the shoreline with its Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail. Hypocrites.

  2. Let me get this straight: Some guy took a chainsaw down to the river and started cutting into driftwood trees because he had an idea? He was asked to stop and came back the next day as an FU to Scenic Hudson and any other person down there trying to enjoy the day?

    This just reeks of privilege and arrogance. If a non-white “artist” went down there with a chainsaw, he or she would be in cuffs. Why he wasn’t fined or arrested is sort of mysterious. The audacity of Scenic Hudson to stop this genius from doing whatever he wants! [via Instagram]

  3. The world evolves around me, I am a river god, I’ll do what I want, where I want, I don’t care about others, I am protected by the pseudo he shield of “guerilla art.” And on top I’ll poke you in the eye with my chainsaw if you disagree.

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