If you live in a major American city, you’re aware of the ritual that takes place every Jan. 2: All at once, everyone tosses their Christmas trees out onto the sidewalk, leaving a green graveyard lining the street. But to artist Michael Neff, the annual refuse presented an endless supply of free art-making material. In 2012, Neff woke up early, grabbed a couple of trees, and took them to the Brooklyn-Queens expressway, where he illicitly suspended the trees from under the overpass. (Neff likes to install his art where people can see it.)
Since then, his tree displays have evolved into the Suspended Forrest project. Inside the Knockdown Center, Neff suspended 40 discarded Christmas trees 12 to 18 inches off the ground for an installation that takes on a life of its own, separate from its unauthorized predecessors. These days, the project is mostly trees left unsold by street vendors.
Neff knows his show strikes people in different ways, but he said he didn’t intend to comment on any ecological concerns or consumerist tendencies. “I especially don’t like the violence that implies,” he said. “This is not meant to be a violent piece, it’s meant to be calm and enjoyable.”
One major benefit of moving the display to a gallery from under the expressway? The smell. “Yeah, sure,” Neff said, laughing. “I’ve got the best smelling art around right now.” Without concerns that city workers will remove the installation, Neff’s art will be on display until the end of January.