Ominous Hello Kitty

For reasons I cannot quite fathom, an installation of Hello Kitty sculptures went up in the courtyard of the Lever House on Park Avenue in Manhattan, and this one, the largest of the set, was still there as of December 1, 2009.

Hello Kitty is an interesting phenomenon, in that she is both ubiquitous and under the radar at the same time.  If you are not yourself a Hello Kitty fan, or close to someone who is, you are probably unaware of just how omnipresent this icon is.  Once you start looking, however, you see her everywhere.

Meanwhile, while there is only one Lever House, there are numerous copies, which is a shame.  The Wikipedia article to which I link explains the innovative design of the building, which was copied on almost every office building in Manhattan for the next few decades, but never so well.  It also is a shame because the beauty of the design fades very quickly, even on the original, especially if the building is not subject to rigorous maintenance.  The green window panels soon take on a dingy, washed out look.   Further, I find the most interesting aspect of the Lever House design is not the curtain wall that was copied everywhere, but the shape, which is, I believe, a false cantilever, creating both an interesting look and a play on the name of the building’s builder and original primary tenant.

This shot, which I display here in two versions, gave me a lot of trouble.  If you search Flickr or the web generally, you can find a lot of photos of this statue, mostly taken during daylight and displaying the cute recontextualized effect I expect the artist was meaning to evoke.  But my images, taken at night, never worked until I cranked up the weird.  Any basic methods I tried, HDR, saturation, black and white, luminance, what have you, they all just looked off.  Worse, they weren’t interesting.

The top version here, with the combination of its deep green glow, the handful of blue windows, and the mod wall decoration on the second floor behind HK, looks to me like the secret lair of an evil Dr. Hello Kitty if she were a 1960s Bond villain.  The Black and White negative evokes a 1950s sci-fi robot image.

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