Erected in 1999 — with an accompanying smoke-spewing brick wall at its side — Metronome has long baffled those who lived or worked in the neighborhood, even when functioning properly. The digits are intended to display military time, forward and backward: the first seven numbers exhibit the time of day, in hours, minutes, seconds and fifths of a second; the last seven represent the time remaining in the day, using the same units. The middle digit, a collision of numbers overlaying one another from both directions, is a virtual blur to the naked eye.
For more than a year now, one of New York City’s largest timepieces has marched to its own beat, spouting nonsensical readings — 40 minutes slow, an hour and 10 minutes fast, 7 hours and 26 minutes slow — to mystified passers-by.
With updated programming software in place — from its inception until its malfunction, the clock had retrieved an atomic time reading using a dial-up connection, according to Ms. Jones — the artists are optimistic that Metronome’s technical glitches are behind it. At long last, they hope, the founding message of the installation, as a reflection on the passage of time, will resonate with audiences once again.
Early returns are discouraging.
“I saw this in the papers in Sweden. It’s the national debt,” insisted Ann Magnusson, a tourist from Stockholm, resting on the steps of Union Square Park on Monday afternoon. “China owns the U.S., no?”