Yo Brooklyn, Oy Manhattan

New York Sculpture Stirs Up Debate with Double Meaning

“OY/YO” by Deborah Kass

Does this sculpture scream “YO” or lament “OY”…well, that depends on your point of view. Literally.

When viewed from the Brooklyn Bridge Park it seems to say Oy. But for Manhattanites looking at the work, they see a large yellow YO.

Deborah Kass is a New York artist. “Oy/Yo” is the first piece she has created on this scale, and originated as a painting (“OY” in 2011.) The finished sculpture is about 8 feet tall, 17 feet long.

“The fact that this particular work resonates so beautifully in so many languages to so many communities is why I wanted to make it monumental,” Ms. Kass said.

The sculpture is made of painted aluminum and is slated to remain at the park greeting visitors with one phrase or another until August.

If you aren’t familiar with either word, well then you just aren’t from the neighborhood.

Actually, both words have long histories. According to Peter Sokolowski, the editor at large of Merriam-Webster, “oy” became “a naturalized citizen of English” in the 1890s while the word “yo” dates to the 15th century, when it was in use in Middle English.

So, does the sculpture really say YO or is it OY. The artist for one isn’t spilling the beans. She wants that left up to the interpretation of the viewer.

As for the commissioning agency, they don’t seem to care much one way or the other either. Lisa Kim, the development group’s cultural affairs director, said, “How much more succinct and iconic of a New York and Brooklyn phrase can you get than ‘oy’ or ‘yo’?”

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Sculpture “OY/YO” by Deborah Kass photo by Credit Kirsten Luce for The New York Times