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Governors Island Announces Commission of New Artwork by Duke Riley


The Trust for Governors Island announced today that a mural by artist Duke Riley will open as part of its ongoing art commissioning series. Riley’s installation, entitled Not for Nutten, will open at the Governors Island Ferry Waiting Room located in the historic Battery Maritime Building on May 1 and remain on exhibit long term, with the work on view this public season and in the years ahead.

Riley’s mural expands on the tradition of ships in a bottle, referencing single-use plastic containers of today such as detergent bottles and caulking tubes, which can be found floating and accumulating in oceans worldwide. Unlike their blown glass counterparts, Riley’s painted, nautical vignettes appear etched like scrimshaw on the surfaces of familiar items that plague our waterways. The richly pigmented artwork provides visitors with an introduction to their journey across the Harbor to Governors Island, reflecting on how storytelling, memory, and human consumption all make imprints on our ever-evolving understanding of place, history, and the physical landscapes that we inhabit.

“As a historic center for the arts, Governors Island is proud to welcome yet another celebrated artist to enliven our public spaces,” said Clare Newman, President and CEO of the Trust for Governors Island. “Riley’s work marries the Harbor’s rich history with the Island’s present focus on the pressing issues of the ongoing climate crisis. This intricately beautiful mural looks to both the past and the future, giving visitors the chance to pause and reflect as they enjoy everything the Island has to offer.”

“Duke Riley’s expansive work for the Governors Island ferry building links visitors to the Island’s past and present, with scenes ranging in time from the Island’s British occupation to a sea creature caught with a Covid-era rubber glove,” said Meredith Johnson, VP of Arts and Culture and Head Curator at the Trust. “Blending fact and fiction, humor and tragedy, Riley’s works acts as a collection of past stories anchored in the reality of what’s to come.”

Riley anchors his work, Not for Nutten, in location with nautical flags that spell out “Paggank”, the name given to the Island by the Lenape. The name translates to “Nut Island,” a reference to the many nut trees found on its shores. In 1624, Dutch settlers called the Island “Noten Eylandt,” which the British later mispronounced as “Nutten Island.” Riley’s play of the term “not for nothing,” a phrase whose origin is speculated to be uniquely from New York City, frames the reading of the mural and its environmental warning, emphasizing important news about to be delivered.

Not for Nutten is curated by Meredith Johnson, The Trust for Governors Island’s Vice President for Arts and Culture and Head Curator. Since opening to the public in 2005, the Island has been home to hundreds of artists and arts and cultural organizations from across New York City, bringing a robust calendar of commissions, exhibitions and events to the Island’s diverse audience. The Trust’s commissioning program gives artists the opportunity to engage with audiences through site-specific projects responding to the Island’s unique conditions. Existing commissions that will remain on view for the 2021 season include Rachel Whiteread’s Cabin, Mark Handforth’s Yankee Hanger, and Shantell Martin’s Church. Previous commissions include Susan Philipsz’s Day is Done, David Brooks’ Rock, Mosquito and Hummingbird, and Jacob Hashimoto’s Never Comes Tomorrow. Learn more about public art commissions on Governors Island at govisland.org/things-to-do/public-art.

Not for Nutten was made possible through the generous support of Charina Endowment Fund and The O’Grady Foundation.

In 2021, Governors Island will open to the public from May 1-October 31. For more information, visit govisland.org.

About Duke Riley

Duke Riley is a Brooklyn-based artist and seafarer, whose work is intertwined with maritime history and urban waterways. His installations, paintings, drawings, sculptures, and mosaics weave historical and contemporary events with elements of fiction and myth. In 2007, Riley built, launched, and piloted a full-scale replica of the Turtle, reenacting its 1776 mission near the shores of Governors Island in the Buttermilk Channel for his project The Battle of Brooklyn. Born in Boston, Riley received his BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and his M.F.A. from Pratt Institute. Riley’s work has been widely exhibited in shows and public projects in New York, nationally, and internationally.