Lonely Planet Writer

Now's the time to grab a free boat tour of New York

If you ever wanted to get a free boat tour of New York City, now is your chance. As part of a Public Art Fund project, New York artist Tauba Auerbach has fixed up and painted a century-old boat, which will offer hour-long rides around the harbor through September, offering stunning views of the city’s skyline.

The John J. Harvey in New York Harbor
Tauba Auerbach, Flow Separation, 2018. Commissioned by Public Art Fund and 14-18 NOW and presented on Fireboat John J. Harvey in New York Harbor July 1, 2018 – May 12, 2019. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery. Image by Nicholas Knight, courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

It’s an Instagram-friendly boat, for sure. Entitled Flow Separation, Auerbach has painted a historic boat into a red and white marble-pattern. Built in 1931, this boat is called the John J. Harvey fireboat and its claim to fame is for helping people evacuate lower Manhattan during the September 11 attacks.

The painting of this boat is part of 14-18 NOW, a First World War centenary arts program based in the U.K. which has financed the repainting of ships from the era. November 11 marks the centennial celebration for the end of the First World War.

Fireboat John J. Harvey
The John J. Harvey with Brooklyn Bridge in the background. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery. Image by Nicholas Knight, courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

But this boat being painted red and white dates back to a tradition from WWI, as “dazzle camouflage” was invented by British marine artist Norman Wilkinson who thought that painting ships with geometric shapes could make it hard for enemy boats to target them.

The pattern Auerbach used is influenced by cubism and an abstract art movement called Vorticism that originated in Great Britain. However, just as Auerbach’s artwork is meant to restore the rusted paint and “camouflage” the vessel from other boats, she wanted to do so with pizzazz, saying says she wanted to transform it into a “dazzle ship.”

'Dazzle Paint' pattern on the John J. Harvey
The paint pattern on the John J. Harvey is influenced by cubism. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery. Image by Nicholas Knight, courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Boat trips will take place on weekends through September, with the free rides departing from Pier 6 (Brooklyn Bridge Park), Pier 25 (Hudson River Park) and Pier 66a.

“I didn’t want to ignore the John J. Harvey’s identity, so I took the boat’s usual paint job and scrambled it,” said Auerbach. “The palette also exaggerates the fact that ‘dazzling’ was more about confusing and outsmarting, rather than about hiding, as I like those instances where cleverness is an antidote to brute force.”