Decorating the median of Park Avenue from 69th to 70th Street, four large-scale chandeliers glitter in the sun. As you get closer, you’ll notice that these fixtures are not made of crystal or glass but recycled water bottles. New Jersey artist Willie Cole, 68, has gathered thousands of discarded water bottles and given them a second life in the very heart of New York City.

Water bottle chandelier by Willie Cole

Made from a combined total of 9,000 bottles, Cole’s four chandeliers are each individually named 3000 Buddha Chandelier, Liberty Lantern, Soul Catcher, and Dirt Devil. Each is made using its own unique design, particularly Cole’s 3000 Buddha Chandelier. Inspired by a dream the artist had, the unique sculpture, as the name suggests, is comprised of 3,000 water bottles with a printed Buddha in each. The artist’s Liberty Lantern is of a similar design, with each bottle filled with an image of the Statue of Liberty. While water bottles are the sculptures’ most noticeable materials, Willie Cole also uses a variety of other recycled “found objects” in his pieces including shoes, bicycle parts, and musical instruments.

Willie Cole's Liberty Lantern chandelier
Willie Cole’s Liberty Lantern sculpture.

The installation’s focal point tackles two major societal issues today, the need for fresh drinking water and the acknowledgment of the damage caused to the environment by the use of plastic bottles and improper disposal. “The struggle between beauty and ugliness is embedded in my chandeliers: trash as treasure as teacher,” Cole explained in a recent press release.

Cole drew further inspiration from a water crisis that hit close to home for him. Newark, New Jersey, where Cole grew up in the sixties, recently faced serious lead contamination in the water supply. While the problem surfaced in 2016, it was an ongoing issue for the years following and has still not been completely resolved. Thousands of water bottles were distributed by the city during this time, stirring conversations about plastic waste.

The pieces that adorn Park Avenue were created during Cole’s 2023 artist residency at Express Newark in connection to Rutgers University-Newark. The installation was made possible by the combined efforts of many groups. The Fund for Park Avenue and the New York City Parks Department commissioned the art, and JRAL, a local art logistics company, aided in putting the pieces together.

Willie Cole's 3000 Buddha Chandelier
Willie Cole’s 3000 Buddha Chandelier sculpture.

Willie Cole’s chandeliers will be on display through the end of the year, and his other eccentric work can be found in New York City museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, as well as many others.

Water bottle chandelier by Willie Cole

Next, check out these guitars made from old NYC buildings!