A house of stacked boxes that teeters upwards from the Bowery, the New Museum’s silhouette doesn’t seem like apt inspiration for a skateboard. But that hasn’t stopped the museum — last seen hawking Bowery-scented air fresheners — from teaming up with Chapman to create a limited edition deck in the shape of its iconic Sejima + Nishizawa/SANAA-designed building.
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When we first caught wind of this madness, we knew we had to take it to the Manhattan Bridge Skatepark. We had barely set foot in it when a trio from New Orleans descended. “This board looks like you went to skate in a holographic-fractal universe,” said Brad in wonder. “There’s a lot of fractal geometry going on.”
Marquise, a New Yorker who’d been skating for 4 years, gave the board a trial run. “It feels good when you’re riding,” he says, after slaloming the park a couple times. “But it’s not for tricks.” This was astute of him—we’d been expressly advised by the New Museum that this board was not for grinding.
His friend Fabian begged to differ. “It feels smooth, yeah, but you could totally grind this,” he said. “I just can’t now ‘cos I’m a little…” He gestured back at his friends lighting up in the corner.
“Man, that’s crazy!” A new group nudged each other, checking out our ride. “Doesn’t that thing look dangerous, man?”
Chris, a veteran Californian skater into his fourteenth year, deigned to take it for a spin. “It feels good, but it feels very awkward because it’s hard to turn,” he said, laughing. “That thing’s insane. It’s cool! I’ve definitely never seen anything like that before.”
Observing the enthusiasm, T.J. decided to sort us out. “It’s very impractical,” he said. “Just how short it is. It’s very impractical in numerous ways.” He proceeded to break down the board’s design flaws: the length (stumpy), the fact it can only be ridden with one end in front, the lack of lip on the front edge. “I don’t think it counterbalances the weight,” he said gravely, shaking his head.
Eby Ghafarian, who B+B last ran into when he was starting up NYC skate magazine Stoops, had been sitting next to T.J. during this analysis and decided he was up for a challenge. After a couple of false starts, he turned out to be our best rider yet, and actually managed to land a couple tricks.
Still, he likened the deck to a penny board—designed for cruising and possibly purchased because “they match your outfit easily.” But seriously, I asked, why would you buy such a thing? “If you’re a real skater you won’t,” he said, bluntly. And the same likely goes for the New Museum’s art project. “It’s probably not gonna be skaters buying it,” he mused, “more the art crowd.”
This is especially true since, at $125, it’s a darn sight pricier than your average $50 deck. And with only 150 boards up for sale, it’s fairly obvious that these Chapman oddities aren’t meant for regular use and and are really just a celebration of the eye of the skateboarder: the special awareness that makes you a good one, the attention to lines and angles and edges, the dynamic mathematics of urban spaces.
The best description of this way of seeing that I know of is Sean Wilsey’s essay “Using so Little,” in the LRB. “The kerb is the piece of the city that skaters are most often concerned with…I’d never looked properly at kerbs until I learned to skate, and I haven’t looked at them the same way since,” Wilsey writes. When you skate, he says, you feel “a pleasurable sort of intimacy with the hidden parts of the city.”
This might be why the skaters we met weren’t laughing, although they knew they’d never buy such a thing. They respected the board: partly because it made things infinitely harder and thus more interesting, and partly because its off-kilter geometry was beautiful to them—made sense somehow, in that concrete cradle beneath the bridge. It’s an object that contains none of the practicality, but a lot of the poetry, of the streets.
Check out the video up top to see the board in action. The Chapman x New Museum Skateboard is available for purchase for $125 in the New Museum store (235 Bowery) or at newmuseumstore.org.