Anyone traveling New York City's Park Avenue this spring will have the chance to contemplate the meaning of the word maelstrom, thanks to a sculpture by artist Alice Aycock currently being installed on the avenue's median.

Alice Aycock's "Maelstrom." Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times

Described by the The New York Times as "a spiky assemblage of aluminum ribbons that stretches for some 70 feet," "Maelstrom" is part of "Park Avenue Paper Chase," Aycock's installation of large-scale works in white bands of aluminum or fiberglass, inspired (again, according to the Times) "variously by tornadoes, dance movements and drapery folds." 

"The notion is that there is this big wind that moves up and down the avenue, and that it makes the forms or blows the forms and leaves it in its wake," said Ms. Aycock.

So what kind of a windy form is a maelstrom? Let's take a closer look.

maelstrom is the kind of "whirlpool" in which sailors and ships famously disappear. Over time, its meaning has stretched to include non-acquatic, but similarly dire, confused, or not-looking-good-for-our-hero situations, such that maelstrom can now describe a sinking economy, a devolving dinner party, or a classroom gone feral under the guidance of a substitute teacher.

This enhanced meaning is perfectly embodied in Aycock's confused, swirling form. What better way to both understand and remember what maelstrom means than giving it a long, hard look?

Aycock's show is presented by the Sculpture Committee of the Fund for Park Avenue and New York’s Department of Parks and Recreation and will be on display through July 20 of this year.