It has been called beautiful, awesome and brilliant, a transcendent work of art that reimagines the holiday experience with local touches of the Jersey Shore.
It also has been called ridiculous, ugly and hideous, something akin to a pile of Amazon shipping boxes or a giant cat-scratching post.
A fresh-cut natural Christmas tree usually graces the Grand Arcade at Convention Hall on Asbury Park’s historic boardwalk.
But this year, in its place is art made of cardboard in the shape of a tree that also incorporates elements of the seashore, the city’s architecture and its rich musical heritage, which most notably includes Bruce Springsteen. It is designed to be recycled after it is dismantled.
“I like that it’s different,” said Chris Trifari of neighboring Neptune as he strolled by the tree. “It’s pretty interesting.”
“I think it’s very creative,” said Asbury Park resident Elizabeth Khimitch, who brought her two dogs to be photographed in front of the display. ”It fits the Asbury vibe, which is different and unusual.”
Others were not as appreciative.
“It looks like an Amazon package,” said Anthony Solimando, a former resident of nearby Neptune City who recently moved to Hoboken.
“Not a fan,” added Amy Mackey, who lives near Asbury Park. “Asbury has conformed into this artsy town, but tradition is tradition! This is art, and I wouldn’t take my child’s picture in front of this tree. Can’t we just have our traditional tree?”
“No lights?” said Zuzanna Humeniuk, of Wall. “It’s creative, but not festive at all.”
The change came about this year when the city’s art community approached Madison Marquette, the private owner and manager of the Asbury Park boardwalk, about creating a Christmas tree sculpture for Convention Hall, according to Austin Leopold, the boardwalk’s property manager.
“Because the boardwalk is a focal point for Asbury Park’s thriving arts and music community, and because we have a long-standing and very strong relationship with top-name local artists, when presented with the concept for the sculpture, we passionately embraced the idea,” Leopold said.
Michael Lavallee, a local artist who goes by the name Porkchop and whose work has been displayed throughout the U.S. and Europe, created the piece with Brad Hoffer. They call it “The Giving Tree.”
He said the company told him there would not be a natural Christmas tree at Convention Hall this year.
“I was asked to come in and do something festive-ish,” said Porkchop, who studied in Virginia and Philadelphia. “It wasn’t my intention to take away anyone’s Christmas tree. If you’re not going to give people the big tree they want, some of them are going to hate it. I understand that. But they weren’t going to get that traditional Christmas tree anyway.”
The piece uses natural and artificial lighting to cast shadows on parts of the tree while illuminating others so that its appearance changes throughout the day.
Amy Quinn, Asbury Park’s deputy mayor, said that the city is not involved in the Convention Hall display, but that she considers herself a fan. She notes that the city will hold a traditional outdoor tree lighting in a park Friday.
“I love the take that the local artists had on the tree,” she said. “I love that it’s different. Love it or hate it, people are talking about it.”