Tonight I’ll Sleep on a Bird of Nails: Will Ryman’s “Bird”

April 9, 2013 — If you thought Bon Jovi would get the last word on roses and nails, then New York artist Will Ryman would like to have a few words with you.
And they probably are, “Stop listening to Bon Jovi.”

Just kidding. I’m too old to know what people should or shouldn’t be listening to and, more importantly, what musicians are cool to make fun of. So I’m going to stick to sculpture. Even though I am equally ignorant there.

I do know that Ryman’s sculpture Bird is currently roosting at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Broadway in Manhattan, being pointed at by the famous Flatiron Building, which I think needs a name update to something like, say, the Cursor Building.

Bird is a 12-foot-tall steel raven made of both fake and real nails in sizes ranging from affix-drywall-to-frame size to resole-Paul-Bunyan’s-boot size. It’s like Pinhead got reincarnated as a bird.

The nails give the five-ton black bird a fascinating texture. Makes it look ruffled, harsh and soft at the same time. And it stands on a nest of store-bought nails. You sang that line, right?

The semi-harshness of the bird is only barely alleviated by the rose dangling from its black beak by a long serpentine stem, the kind of mutated, carnivorous-looking flower that Swamp Thing might give to his girlfriend for being so understanding about dating a plant.

Every news article I’ve read about Bird says that Ryman's sculpture was “loosely inspired” by Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven. I’m not sure what that phrase in quotation marks means, but I assume it’s the credit legally mandated by Poe’s active copyright on any artistic use of that carrion fowl. The raven is Poe’s. It’s not something I’d want to challenge in a court of law, either.

Actually, according to this interview in the Huffington Post, what Ryman said when asked directly about whether Poe was his inspiration was, “The image of the bird, maybe, but very loosely. It's really more about the abstraction of the nail.” Interpreted in my own native language of jerkese, that means, “Yeah, obviously you can’t do anything with a raven without the ghost of Poe looking grumpily over your shoulder, but God damn it, I just wanted to make a giant black bird out of nails.”

Unfortunately, the bird’s perch is only a temporary one. It was installed on March 24 and will have cooped the flow on April 21. That gives you less than two weeks to see this thing in this setting.

Bon Jovi will still be around, though. Hopefully having a better night’s sleep these days.

You think this is the only time I've ever visited an art installation of a giant black bird in New York? It's like you don't even know me. I know of a permanent installation of them...but you need to buy my New York Grimpendium to find out how to see them for yourself. Please? Just one copy. It's tax-deductible. No, it's not. But it's kind of like charity.