Waterfalls artist brings cooler sort of summer to Manhattan

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It is easy in Manhattan to forget that it occupies an island surrounded by the ocean. This summer, however, as the mercury rises as usual to barely tolerable levels, a Dutch artist, Olafur Eliasson, has given its harried denizens a rushing, gurgling reminder of their geographic good fortune.

In what is being hailed as the biggest outdoor art installation in New York since the saffron-coloured gates of Cristo were planted along the paths of Central Park three years ago, Mr Eliasson, with help from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, yesterday inaugurated four waterfalls along the East River.

The effect is not quite of that of the Niagara Falls a few hundred miles upstate from the city, but these ersatz cascades of scaffolding steel will surely draw the curious and the overheated until they are finally switched off on 13 October. Special boat tours will glide by them and the city has even arranged a bike path for two-wheeled viewing.

Mr Eliasson is well known for dramatic gestures that attempt to meld art and the elements. Recent efforts included his recreation of the sun with 2,000 yellow lamps, mirrors and mist inside the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London.

The New York project has been planned for two years and cost $15m to pull off as well as the work of scores of engineers, environmentalists and construction crews. But Mr Bloomberg predicted yesterday the waterfalls' presence alone will generate more than $55m (£28m) in new tourist dollars for the city.

From dawn until late in the evening, water from the East River will be pumped to the top of the four scaffolding platforms. The tallest is 120ft and the widest 30ft. At night, the curtains of falling water will be backlit by diode lamps. While running, the four falls will churn 2.1 million gallons of water per hour.

Most visitors and residents should be able to glimpse them without much difficulty even from subway trains traversing the East River spans. Two of the cascades are at the ends of river piers, one is on the edge of Governor's Island in the New York Harbour, while the fourth rises beneath Brooklyn Bridge.

"I am of course incredibly happy today," Mr Eliasson, 41, said at the switching-on ceremony at the South Street Seaport. "It's been quite a journey. And even though it's a scaffold standing on the shoreline, sucking up the water and letting it fall back down, it's been a big challenge to achieve this."

Mr Bloomberg called the project "a triumph of human imagination and mechanical engineering," and a reminder that "New York City is a place where big ideas can be realised."