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New York is a city in constant motion, and in a new public art exhibition, even the skyscrapers seem to be getting in on the action.

Steel sculptures of 10 prominent city buildings dot the median strip of Park Avenue between 54th Street and 67th Street in Manhattan as part of contemporary artist Alexandre Arrechea’s No Limits installation. But passersby can be forgiven if they don’t instantly recognise the structures. Each has been given a tweak that, as the project’s statement explains, “play[s] on the idea of elastic architecture as a metaphor for [the] challenges and opportunities of shifting conditions and new realities.”

For example, in Arrechea’s interpretation of the Chrysler Building, the Art Deco spire snakes skyward like a firefighter’s hose; the Empire State Building is coiled into a 9.6ft-wide pentagon; while the Flatiron Building is flattened and hoisted up like a flag. And the Seagram Building undulates almost 20ft into the air from a movie reel-like base. To see its real design by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, just look down the block between 52nd and 53rd Streets.

Indeed, several of the buildings represented in the site-specific installation have Park Avenue addresses, and the sculptures were placed as close as possible to their actual locations to establish a dialogue with the city. “The closer the better,” Arrechea said. “So people can make the link.”

Two of the pieces – versions of the Helmsley Building, a one-time railroad company headquarters, and the Sherry Netherland apartment-hotel – appear to be rolling down the avenue. Each is curved base to top, like a snake eating its tail, in a nod to New York’s reinventive nature.

“The city exists because we make it exist,” Arrechea said.

Bookending the exhibition are two towers — Citigroup Center, distinctive in the Midtown skyline with its 45-degree slanted roof, and the octagonal MetLife building — set atop giant spinning tops. The tops are designed to rotate, although trampling through the flowerbeds to touch the art is not sanctioned by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Their placement, however, is symbolic, Arrechea said, as a way to “[keep] the city dancing”.

The free exhibition can be seen through 9 June.

Amy Brader is the New York City Localite for BBC Travel.

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