You can see it from the overlook at the newly opened Little Island, a Barry Diller-funded so-called revitalization of the Hudson Riverfront—but only if you wrest your gaze from the skyline vistas, and even then, only if weather permits. David Hammons’s Day’s End (2014-2021) also sits on the water’s edge, partly upon a shoal of rubble-like rock dotted with broken branches, rusted metal, and wild trees, on which the gray-green water laps, and partly plunged into the river itself. It is more armature than structure, made of six identical steel frames, sixty-five feet in height, which reach straight up before forming sloping shoulders which then jut up to a head which forms a similar pentagonal shape. Orthogonal steel castings buttress each frame, cutting each in half vertically, and connecting all of them across either side.
Its appearance, so simple as to render description banal, belies its technical complexity—the castings were manufactured in Brazil and machined in Canada, while its pipes were sourced from France and made in Italy—and also its rich history. The site, which was used as a refuse dump for oysters by the indigenous Lenape, was colonized by successive waves of European settlers before it became the site for Fort Gansevoort in the War of 1812. In the next century, it would become a prominent cruising spot for queer communities, and, in 1975, the site of a Gordon Matta-Clark artwork [pictured below], also entitled Day’s End, in which he made five incisions into the walls of a pier shed. These cuts, captured on Super 8 film housed in The Museum of Modern Art’s collection and a photograph in that of the Whitney Museum of American Art, unleashed a half-moon of sunlight, a rollicking view of the waves beneath, and slivered skylights. It briefly stood as a cathedral to a bygone industrial age before it was itself demolished. Hammon’s Day’s End, constructed and cared for by the Whitney, which sits directly across the West Side Highway, traces the measurements of its namesake down to the inch.
You could look right past it; you can see right through it. The site is abutted by and partially subsumed by a construction zone, complete with didactic panels explaining what’s to come. (Indeed, a rendering of Gansevoort Peninsula, currently in design and slated for 2023, shows Day’s End as a hilariously absurd beachside promenade.) Hammons’s work includes no such explanatory text, and may not need one. “For [Hammons], New York is not just its buildings, and all the things we associate with it,” Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri says in a video produced by the Whitney. “It’s also its debris, its fragments, its unseen aspects, things that no one notices. It’s a New York that most New Yorkers have probably not suspected is there.” An elegiac memorial to and stubborn ghost of eras bygone, Day’s End will also serve as silent witness to the inevitable changes to come.
David Hammons, Day’s End, 2014 - 2021. Stainless steel and precast concrete, overall: 52 ft high, 325 ft long, 65 ft wide. © David Hammons. Photograph by Timothy Schenck
Insert: Gordon Matta-Clark, (1943-1978). Day’s End (Pier 52) (Exterior with Ice), 1975. Color photograph, 1029 x 794 mm. © Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark, Artists Rights Society (ARS), N.Y.