Ken Tedaldi is appalled, and he has no qualms about sharing why.
“It’s absolutely disgusting,” the Quogue resident said while enjoying lunch Tuesday at the Cafe at Malloy, the small diner located inside the terminal at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton. “It’s pitiful. It looks like cheap papier-mâché done by a first-grader.”
Alex Sganga of Westhampton Beach, who works at the Cafe at Malloy, said that when her fellow employees learned last week that the 30-foot-tall statue was being installed near the airport’s main entrance, most thought it was a practical joke.
“It was definitely a shock,” she said while standing behind the counter on Tuesday. “We got the photo, and we kind of thought they were kidding.”
But the aluminum statue, called “Walking Figure,” is no joke. It weighs close to 5,000 pounds. It took several months to construct. It was shipped almost 2,500 miles, from Arizona, via a flatbed truck. It was envisioned by Donald Baechler, an artist with a studio in New York City.
And it now has a permanent home inside the traffic circle at the airport’s main entrance.
Commissioned by cousins Gregg and Mitchell Rechler, the developers behind the new Hampton Business District at Gabreski Airport, “Walking Figure” is intended to reflect the types of businesses that will eventually lease space at the nine-building, 440,000-square-foot complex, which will be anchored by a three-story hotel.
“The sculpture is bold and imaginative, with a liveliness that mirrors the modern design elements and positive, open feel of the Hamptons Business District,” said developer Mitchell Rechler, managing partner of Rechler Equity, in a prepared statement.
The cousins, who broke ground on the business complex this past spring, inked a 40-year lease with Suffolk County in 2009 to develop the 55 acres near the airport’s entrance. The county owns the land.
When reached this week, Mr. Baechler explained that the Rechlers hired him to create a 30-foot-tall figure made from aluminum. The final product, which was constructed at a studio in Arizona over several months, is less than 6 feet wide and depicts a smiling girl in mid-stride.
“It’s a whole different scale relationship,” the artist said about his creation. “It’s a monumental scale rather than a human scale.”
The piece is based on sketches that Mr. Baechler drew in the late 1980s, he noted this week. There is no exact replica of this statue, though different versions based on the same sketches, including one that sits outside the IBM building in New York City and another cast in bronze, have been commissioned in the past, according to representatives of Mr. Baechler’s studio. Both of those creations, however, are considerably smaller in size: one is 10 feet tall, while the other measures 6 feet.
“This was such a unique opportunity,” Mr. Baechler added. “What I think is very effective about this work is the idea of being in motion. It’s about mobility and progress, to a certain extent.”
Both the artist and the Rechlers declined to say how much the piece cost.
Prior to being installed, some of those who first spotted the modern art piece—which some people are saying appears to have been constructed from aluminum foil—said they did not know what to think.
“At first, we thought it was scrap metal laying on the ground,” said Alice Chapman, an employee at Sheahan Publications located in the airport complex, laughing. “It really is a UFO, [a] spacey looking thing.” She added that the artwork has been a hot topic of discussion at her office over the past few days.
But not everyone is upset by the new, shiny giant.
Annica Penn could not help but laugh while pouring coffee and chatting with customers from behind the counter at the Hampton Coffee Company in Westhampton Beach on Friday morning. “How did you miss it?” she asked one customer who stopped in the shop. “It’s a giant, shiny statue!
“It’s pretty cool,” Ms. Penn continued, catching up those customers who do not normally drive along Old Riverhead Road during their commute. “I don’t know why it’s there, but it doesn’t look bad.”
Mr. Baechler supervised the installation of the figure on the traffic circle on Collins Way early last week. He noted in an email that he was at the site for two days, though the workers completing the installation did not require much in the way of assistance. They used a crane to lift the piece into place.
The metallic figure continues to be the subject of conversation among those heading into Westhampton Beach from Sunrise Highway, with a few saying they are concerned that the artwork could potentially distract pilots approaching Gabreski Airport.
Anthony Ceglio, who manages the county airport, said the statue was cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration prior to its installation. The traffic circle, he noted, is part of the airport property being leased by the Rechlers.
“While not related to aviation, the sculpture creates interest, which may be beneficial to an emerging industrial park on the East End of Long Island,” Mr. Ceglio wrote in the email last Thursday, June 5.
The piece is definitely being noticed by locals and visitors alike, many of whom have posted comments and pictures on social media sites over the past few days.
Modern art pieces, such as sculptures, paintings and photographs, are common features on properties owned or leased by the Rechlers, according to a press release issued this week by the development firm. Workers are now preparing to install artificial turf at the base of the statue and along the inside of the traffic circle in Westhampton.
“An ambitious project like the Hampton Business District called for art on a grand scale, and we found it in Baechler’s work,” said Gregg Rechler, the second managing partner of Rechler Equity and the cousin of Mitchell Rechler, in a prepared statement.