The Helmet Project, Cindy Kane’s evocative multimedia installation created in 2008, is finding new life this year in New York City’s Flatiron Building. The artist, a year round Vineyard Haven resident, collaged 50 military helmets with the notes and memorabilia of war correspondents in a tribute to the journalists who risk and sometimes lose their lives covering wars worldwide. New York curator Cheryl McGinnis has titled the revived exhibit “Eyes on the Ground –– Journals of War.” An opening reception at the Flatiron Building is planned for Tuesday, November 18, and a number of the journalists who contributed to the project will attend.
“This is its fourth incarnation,” Ms. Kane said in a phone interview with The Times last weekend. The Helmet Project first went on exhibit in September 2008 at the former Carol Craven Gallery in Vineyard Haven, and it has since been on display at the Cheryl Pelavin Gallery in New York and Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri. The artist calls the display in the Sprint Prow Art Space at the historic building “like a street exhibition. This show is really all about the space. It’s such a public space.” She points out that it’s the first time thousands of people will see the installation.
Ms. Kane and Ms. McGinnis discovered each other on Facebook, and Ms. Kane also visited the Cheryl McGinnis Gallery. Six months later, after seeing images of the Helmet Project on Ms. Kane’s website, the curator phoned the artist and said she wanted to exhibit it in the Flatiron Building.
Ms. Kane’s first response was that it was not a good place for such a tactile, personal installation, but she soon changed her mind. “I didn’t understand the nature of the space,” she said. “A good curator gives the artist an understanding of it.” Located at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway, the Flatiron building lies at the nexus of downtown Manhattan, with foot traffic that ranges as high as 500,000 people.
“It’s a gift to New York,” Ms. McGinnis says of the exhibit. She hung it with two assistants from Cheryl McGinnis Projects. “We touched each helmet, with its history and the journalists. It feels so sacred and valuable. I’m honored to have Cindy’s exhibit.” The curator has mounted a number of shows at the glass-enclosed space owned by the telecommunications giant Sprint. Scaffolding from construction on the building has partially obscured the space, which Sprint has also used for advertising, but it is due to come down shortly.
Ms. Kane purchased the helmets, which date from World War II, the Vietnam War, and more recent conflicts in the Middle East, at online military sites. She started by approaching journalists who live on the Island, including Ward Just, Nelson Bryant, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, and Tony Horwitz. In addition to field notes, journalists have contributed photographs, foreign currency, passport pages, band-aids, and ear plugs.
“The unexpected juxtaposition of an anonymous military helmet and deeply personal memorabilia provides a profound comment on the universality and particularity of war,” Geraldine Brooks, the noted author from West Tisbury, has written about the exhibit.
On her website, Cheryl McGinnis calls the collaged helmets, poignant conceptual portraits of individual writers… The intimacy of each pockmarked, bullet-ridden helmet is visible throughout the day and night, adding to the emotion and power of the exhibit; a constant reminder of the cost of war.” She provides links to each journalist on the Cheryl McGinnis Gallery website. The Flatiron installation is dedicated to the memory of participating journalist Anthony Shadid, who died in Syria in 2012.
Ms. Kane, who exhibits on Island at the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury and the A Gallery in Oak Bluffs, will also have a collaborative installation of her painting with Pam Flam’s quilts at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. It will run from Tuesday, November 25, to Monday, December 29.
“Eyes on the Ground––Journals of War,” Cindy Kane, Sprint Flatiron Prow Art Space, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. Through January 15.