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What the Hell Are All These Lemons Doing in Midtown Manhattan?

Citrovia is public art meets construction site meets lemon-scented Instagram op.

When we heard that a bizarre, lemon-themed art installation had been unveiled in midtown Manhattan, I had to get up there and see for myself. After all, when you work for a company called Lemonade, it’s important to stay on top of all citrus-related developments.

I popped into Citrovia on a muggy afternoon last week, curious what the buzz was about. After all, both the New York Times and the New Yorker had spilled ink about the project, a joint effort between Brookfield Properties and The Cuttlefish, in collaboration with Midnight Theater.

Proving that it’s impossible for reporters to avoid obvious and groan-worthy lemon puns — something we’re all too aware of at Lemonade — the Times’ headline ran, “When Scaffolding Hands Them Lemons, Developers Make Lemon Trees.”

Welcome to lemon land. No sour attitudes.

Citrovia — which admittedly sounds like either a hot new restaurant in the Meatpacking District, or a vitamin-C based prescription medicine for erectile dysfunction — is an ornamental addendum to the construction site surrounding a Brookfield Properties development known as Manhattan West.

“It is the latest, and likely most fantastical, attempt to transform the necessary evil of construction scaffolding, the system of pipes and planks that is supposed to protect passers-by from falling debris but almost always blights the area in the process,” as the Times explains.

Now, I’ve had the privilege of visiting various offbeat ‘experiential’ installations in my day. Most of them have been both expensive and disappointing, which is not a great combination (Egg House and the Museum of Pizza, I’m looking at you).

So Citrovia’s bar for success is already pretty low, considering it’s free for anyone to wander into, whether that’s to eat lunch on a breezy afternoon or to take a selfie with a gigantic fake lemon sprouting from the back of your head.

As an installation, Citrovia is also fascinating in that it’s not actually selling anything, even though it… seems like it is. (Arguably it’s selling the idea of Brookfield Properties as being inventive and edgy, but that’s another argument.) There’s no Citrovia-branded citrus energy drink to purchase, no Citrovia tote bags or promotional hats. Instead, it’s just a very expensive and professionally produced homage to all things lemon.

Have you ever seen a lemon tree…on acid?

I reached out to Evan Schechtman, CEO of The Cuttlefish, for a bit more context. His firm boasts a very eclectic list of past clients, having pulled off projects for the US Army, Taylor Swift, and the Museum of Feelings, among many others.

“We looked at seasonal gardens from around the world [for inspiration on what] would help ‘hide’ the steel structure,” Schechtman explained, noting that they’d considered other motifs, like apples or Cherry Blossom trees. Lemons won out in the end. “Have you seen lemon groves in Capri? Beautiful, trellis-like structures with bright lemons…. We wanted our flora to be anchored in reality, but with a bit of whimsy.”

Whimsy, there’s no shortage of, thanks to the scenic design and fabrication company (Adirondack Studios) that produced the thousands of distinct components. They’ve previously helped create environments for everything from Chinese theme parks to Mohegan Sun casino restaurants.

The lemons and lemon trees were sculpted from polycarbonate plastic, foam, steel, and other materials. They sprawl across inviting artificial lawns which, unfortunately, are off-limits — that hasn’t stopped a few “kids and overzealous photogs” from crossing the barriers, Schechtman says.

There are other ways to “activate the site,” as the saying goes, including some augmented-reality games that cause lemon trees to sprout up willy-nilly on your phone screen. But the best use of Citrovia might simply be as a place to take a break — to enjoy your takeout burrito while breathing in the artificial citrus scents that are supposedly wafting through the outdoor space (I didn’t smell much, but maybe there was too much of a breeze).

Don’t step on the grass…

Schechtman says that his passion for unique, multimedia experiences is inspired by peers like Santa Fe, New Mexico-based Meow Wolf and the immersive theater of Sleep No More.

This installation isn’t in this same ballpark — Sleep No More costs $100, after all — but I also didn’t feel cheated, which is more than I can say after suffering through the Museum of Pizza.

Citrovia is oddly sedate, and just weird enough to be worth a visit if you’re in the neighborhood. Bonus points: It’s within spitting distance of a Whole Foods, if you’d like to purchase some actual lemons.

Take a seat, cue up Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees,” and get momentarily lost in the grove.

Some dedicated Lemonheads enjoying the scene.

Looking for more art, design, and creativity coverage? Check out the rest of the content on Lemonade’s sister blog, FF0083!

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