NYC Water Towers: A New Canvas for Artists

Monday, August 11, 2014

New York City’s water towers are iconic, and starting this month, a hundred of them will be covered in artwork created by Jeff Koons, Maya Lin, and other artists. The project is the brainchild of documentary filmmaker Mary Jordan. It’s meant to raise awareness of global water problems and encourage New Yorkers to drink their tap water.

“The city spends a gazillion dollars to protect that,” she says. “Why are you buying into this hype about this plastic water bottle?”

Most of the images are colorful and playful, but one of the tanks features a picture of a decomposing Albatross with plastic in his stomach – part of a series by photographer Chris Jordan. He admits, “I fly around the world on jets and I use my share of plastic all kinds of junk," but he hopes the image will make people feel something. “From there, it’s up to them if they change in any kind of way.”


More in:

Comments [16]

M Niederman from New York

I applaud this initiative to improve access to clean water for everyone. It is a very worthwhile cause, and one I personally support through several organizations including and community water solutions. I wish Jordan every success in this endeavor.
I feel compelled to provide a historical note: in the late 1980's the artist Martin Calomino conceptualized a project that utilized the water tanks of NYC as "canvases", proposing to wrap them in a manner that conceptually resembles Jordan's project. I photographed Calomino for a feature that ran in New York Magazine (December 4th, 1989 issue). I think it only fair that his ideas be acknowledged in this conversation since they predate Jordan's. With regard to the inherent beauty of the tanks, I assume Jordan's approach would be similar to Calamino's in being a temporary installation, painted or printed on a medium that is wrapped around the tanks for period of time, then uninstalled leaving the tanks as they had been.
I look forward to a follow up on the project and hope you will include information on how the funds raised will be implemented toward providing water directly where it is needed most. If additional organizations emerge to fill this need I would love to hear about them.

Aug. 20 2014 09:13 PM

Correction: New York magazine ...

Aug. 20 2014 01:36 PM
docsavage from Albuquerque, NM

FYI - this idea is exactly 25 years old ... Cf. Dec 4, 1989 issue of The New Yorker magazine ... Martin Calomino is the first ... full disclosure: Marty is husband to my step-sister....

Aug. 19 2014 06:33 PM
Michelle from NYC

It's a great idea and a wonderful way to start a conversation. The wraps do no damage and are installed by reputable water tank maintenance vendors. And water tanks are not forever.....according to their age, property owners replace them to keep them functioning at optimal performance.

Aug. 16 2014 12:02 PM
Dr. C, Art Historian from New Jersey

My idea of a picture is that of an upside-down umbrella, the kind every New Yorker has owned (briefly) in a rainstorm filled with water that is dripping out of it.

Aug. 12 2014 01:12 AM
Betty from Manhattan

Wonderful idea! NY has great water, keeps winning high ratings in competitions with other cities. Regardless of whether the artists are considered great or second rate, the point is to make people aware of water usage. I suspect the art will be temporary installations. Either the artists/bldgs will remove them or mother nature's storms will do it eventually.

Aug. 11 2014 09:13 PM
paulM from nyc

klean kanteen - these are great sturdy reusable water bottles, they also have baby bottles made of high grade material, fill it with the best stuff on earth, NYC water and away you go,, pay once for the bottle and reuse it a 100 times over, and over and over..

Aug. 11 2014 05:04 PM
G. from Brooklyn

The reporter may want to clarify but I do not believe that the images are painted directly on the water towers. They are printed on vinyl mesh that is then wrapped around the towers. They will be easily removable without damageing the towers (that is the hope). I belive Jeff Koons created on. Maybe some people feel he is "second - rate". Ask the Whitney.

Aug. 11 2014 12:47 PM
nystan from NYC-UWS

Great! More Billboards....just what we needed!

Aug. 11 2014 11:26 AM
nalini from Queens

Great idea!!! Love to see art around the city. There should be a blurb to accompany the artwork to reinforce the awareness.

Aug. 11 2014 11:02 AM

I agree that the towers are beautiful in their unadorned state, but it's not clear to me whether the art is painted directly onto the wood or is a canvas wrap. Please explain.

Aug. 11 2014 10:52 AM
David11238 from Kings County

The wooden water towers should really be left alone, considering that most woodwork of this type is extremely rare, and as a side-effect, very artistic. Quite frankly, defacing these very underrated structures, and I do agree with the message the artists are trying to convey, will only turn me off to the messengers. Then again, I guess the Proof will be in the Pudding, won't it?

Aug. 11 2014 09:13 AM
Gloria Rabinowitz from Former West Village resident

I think water tanks are beautiful as they are. Many artists use them as a subject for their art when painting cityscapes. I'm all for increasing the presence of art in the city, but I think doing paintings on historic water towers is a mistake. I do not think they will add to the beauty of New York City's skyline.

Gloria Rabinowitz

Aug. 11 2014 09:01 AM
James McNeil Wetter from Roof Top

A soggy attempt to sponge off a genuine problem. A puddle of second-rate artists will deface the city skyline, and the rest of us will have to live with their daubings until their attempts get washed away.

Aug. 11 2014 08:52 AM
Amy from Westchester

The movie, "Bag It", changed my husband's behavior. He drank bottled water because it was convenient and fairly cheap. After SEEING how all our plastic garbage is killing birds, turtles, fish he immediately started to refill our existing bottles with tap water and to use a reusable rather than plastic bag. I never thought it would be possible to get him to change!!!!

Aug. 11 2014 08:39 AM
Jill Strauss from New York, NY

I'd love to know where the painted water tanks are.... there's nothing on their website. Please let us know.

Aug. 11 2014 07:19 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


Latest Newscast




WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public


Supported by