Roosevelt Island, one of New York's most recently residential islands (until 1989, it was only possible to get there by tram), was once a place for quarantine and isolation. Its Smallpox Hospital is well known as New York City's "only landmarked ruin," but there are other parts of this past that are less visible. The Manhattan Park Pool on the island, in fact, is built on the site of the former New York City Lunatic Asylum.
HOTxTEA (given name Eric Rieger), a Minneapolis-based artist known for his colorful installations in yarn, was inspired by this history and, working with development firm K&Co, who owns the facility, covered both the deck and the bottom of the pool with a surreal sheen of rainbow ombre in an installation titled ASYLUM.
The insane asylum, also dubbed the "Octagon" for its distinctive shape, once held 800 cells for inmates that were filled to the brim. But now, with an expansion built out in 2006, houses an "upscale 500-unit residential community." According to Rieger, the name of the installation also reflects how the pool became the site for his toils.
K&Co (which was founded by Krista Ninivaggi, formerly of SHoP Architects), offered HOTxTEA the use of the site after deciding to close and renovate the entire Manhattan Park facility around it this fall. Though Rieger is fond of color, this was a "dream project" for him according to Gothamist, because clients usually don't let him use quite so much. The pool deck alone took 130 gallons of paint to cover.
Despite (or maybe because of) its ephemeral nature, ASYLUM became a visually striking destination this summer, starring in the Jamie xx video "Good Times" and spawning an Instagram hashtag. 12oz Prophet and Mosaic New York also collaborated on a drone-filmed video that showcases just how stunning the pool looks from the air.
But the pool remains somewhat exclusive, with weekdays costing $25 for a visit, and weekends running $35 per person. A season membership is $450 per person or $650 for a couple. It's a far cry from how things used to be.