#154: The Metronome – Controversial Clock

Smack in the middle of Union Square is the Metronome, one of New York City’s largest timepieces, and possibly the most unloved piece of public art in the city. The […]


Smack in the middle of Union Square is the Metronome, one of New York City’s largest timepieces, and possibly the most unloved piece of public art in the city.

The Metronome is a large public art installation located along the south end of Union Square in New York City. The work was commissioned for $4.2 million and is one of the largest private commissions of public art. Created by Kristin Jones and Andrew Ginzel, it consists of several sections including a round circular void from which puffs of white steam are released throughout the day (and hideously ugly), and a clock made of 15 large orange LED digits called “The Passage”.

Having walked by this digital thing many times, I had no idea what it was as it doesn’t tell time like a normal clock. Apparently, the numbers display time going and coming relative to midnight. It displays the time in a 24 hour format with the seven leftmost digits showing the time in conventional 24-hour format, as hours (2 digits), minutes (2 digits), seconds (2 digits), tenths of a second (1 digit). The seven rightmost digits display the amount of time remaining in a 24-hour day, as tenths of a second (1 digit), seconds (2 digits), minutes (2 digits), hours (2 digits). And the center digit represents hundredths of a second, and appears as a blur. So for instance, in the picture above, the clock reads 151253346064708, it means that time is 15:12 (3:12 PM) and 53.3 seconds since midnight, and that there are 08 hours, 47 minutes, and 06 seconds remaining in the day/until midnight. And just ignore the 8th number as its supposed to just be a blur. Confusing or what?

This digital hourglass has dumbfounded New Yorkers for years. People think its a New Years Eve count down, a count down until the end of the world or possibly the national debt — just because its so damn hard to understand. It’s critics include The New York Times who described it as “Pretentious… the artists’ basic miscalculation was to assume that a large surface called for comparably big forms… It’s just some space in a box with a leaky hole in it.” The New York Post positioned it at #2 on its “10 Buildings We Love to Hate” list, calling it “a grotesque modern nightmare.”

Love it, or hate it, at least now I can understand it.

Metronome One Union Square, New York

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