Case Study: Takeshi Miyakawa Arrested Over Public Art Installation

New York based artist and furniture designer Takeshi Miyakawa was arrested over the weekend in Williamsburg while installing a new series of light sculptures. A passerby mistook his sculpture, which involved illuminating an “I ♥ NY” plastic shopping bag from the inside with LED lights, for something more sinister, and Miyakawa was arrested on the charge of planting false bombs. He is being held pending a psychological evaluation, and a trial date has been set for June 21st.

Read on for more details regarding the incident.

Originally published in the New York Times on May 20, 2012

To an Artist, It Was a Tribute to New York; to the Police, It Was a Fake Bomb


The artist intended it to be a display of his love for the city: white plastic bags stamped with the “I ♥ NY” logo lighted from within and glowing moonlike from lampposts and trees in Brooklyn and beyond. Almost immediately, the installation attracted attention, though probably not the kind the artist, Takeshi Miyakawa, expected.

The police bomb squad was called and Mr. Miyakawa, 50, was arrested early Saturday.

On Sunday, a judge ordered him to be held pending a psychological evaluation, his lawyer said.

Mr. Miyakawa’s plan was to place white LED lights in the plastic bags and hang the bags around the city.

“He wanted to promote a positive message,” said a friend, Louis Lim, who considers Mr. Miyakawa a mentor.

The logo, Mr. Lim said, “was going to be lit up,” adding that Mr. Miyakawa had timed the installation to coincide with a design festival.

“He wasn’t trying to scare anyone,” he said.

But Mr. Miyakawa’s nighttime efforts to install the art in Brooklyn evidently led someone to tell the police about “a suspicious package attached to a tree,” according to a criminal complaint the Brooklyn district attorney’s office has filed against Mr. Miyakawa.

When the police arrived at Bedford Avenue and Lorimer Street shortly after 2 a.m., they found Mr. Miyakawa atop a ladder. What was art to Mr. Miyakawa, was, to the authorities, “an assembly consisting of a plastic box containing wires which was connected by a wire to a plastic bag containing a battery suspended from a metal rod,” the complaint said.

Mr. Miyakawa was charged with reckless endangerment and placing “a false bomb or hazardous substance,” among other charges. He was arraigned in court in Brooklyn on Sunday morning, his lawyer, Deborah J. Blum, said.

She added that Judge Martin Murphy ordered him held pending the psychological exam.

“I believe this was a gross misunderstanding,” Ms. Blum said.

Four friends from Japan and Spain who were with Mr. Miyakawa were not arrested, said Mr. Lim, who was not present.

According to his Web site, Mr. Miyakawa was born in Japan and moved to New York in 1989. He has a design studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and is known for his furniture. One of his pieces is a plywood cabinet modeled after the shape of a public housing complex. Another piece, a 28-inch plywood cube, with a dizzying array of drawers, was once priced at $20,000, which seemed intended to discourage buyers.

“It was such a pain in the neck to make,” he said in 2008. “I don’t want to really make too many of them.”

Mr. Miyakawa also worked for years as a model-maker for the architect Rafael Viñoly, Mr. Lim added.

He is hardly the first person whose art aroused the suspicions of passers-by. In 2006, for instance, two students from Pratt Institute were arrested after the police said they filled a cardboard tube and several bags with newspapers and left them on the subway.

One of the students, Robert Barrett, told the police at the time of his arrest that he had hoped to highlight what he considered the ineffectiveness of the “if you see something, say something” campaign.

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