How a Series of Misunderstandings Landed a Celebrated Artist in Lockup for ‘Planting Fake Bombs’

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Photo: Takeshi Miyakawa

Brooklyn–based designer Takeshi Miyakawa is facing 30 days in Rikers for a psych evaluation after his Design Week art project — creating glowing “I ♥ NY” shopping bags powered by batteries and hanging them from trees and lampposts in Brooklyn and Manhattan — triggered a series of massive misunderstandings that brought out the NYPD bomb squad and forced the evacuation of a block in Williamsburg.

How, you ask, could this have happened?

A look at Miyakawa’s website reveals an ingenious, playful modernist who has made his mark pushing the envelope with recycled materials and fanciful geometric shapes. His work includes “candalier,” a chandelier made of wax that melts into nonexistence, stackable takeout containers that look like giant legos, and a fractal plywood cabinet.

“He does have a fondness for this guerilla activity,” said Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, a gallerist who owns Salon 94 and has shown his designs. “But it is always linked to an event as it was here during Design Week.”

For a show in 2010, Miyakawa hung a neon chair from a light post. But that’s nothing compared to the fracas that started when a Williamsburg resident called 311 on Friday morning to report a plastic shopping bag full of wires that was taped to a tree on Bedford Avenue — not because of any fears that it was a bomb, but because it was an eyesore. Events quickly spiraled into absurdity when the call was transferred to 911, the bomb squad showed up, and the block was evacuated.

The next night, police found Miyakawa installing another bag in Greenpoint. It consisted of a plastic box, LED lights, wires, and a battery, all inside an “I ♥ NY” shopping bag. The cops arrested him and charged him with “planting false bombs.” Then, even though the district attorneys recommended that Judge Martin Murphy set bail, Murphy ordered that Miyakawa be held for 30 days to undergo a psychological evaluation. His lawyer, Deborah Blum, is currently filing for emergency relief to get him out of lockup.

For years Miyakawa worked for the prominent architect Rafael Viñoly, one of the finalists to design the Freedom Tower. Miyakawa’s other works include “us storage,” a clear acrylic storage box in the shape of the American flag. On his website, the work is described thusly: “Store your love, pride, patriotism, ideals, and maybe, there’ll still be enough room for a couple of books. Ask not what US can store for you, instead what you can store in it.”

In a city that values creativity, fairness, and common sense, a celebrated artist such as Takeshi Miyakawa should not be stored away any longer.