Lame Adventure 344: Visiting Christopher Columbus in His Penthouse

In August I heard that the Public Art Fund was presenting an exhibit called Discovering Columbus that would open in September.

Discover Columbus now through November 18th.

The artist Tatzu Nishi was designing a penthouse apartment around the Christopher Columbus statue in Columbus Circle at Central Park West and Broadway here in Manhattan.  Admission price would be my second favorite four letter f-word, free.  Over beers, I told my pal, Milton, about the statue that was now encased in scaffolding:

Me:  We have to see this.

Milton:  Yeah, I’ve noticed that scaffolding.  Okay.

Penthouse on top of scaffolding ensconced statue pedestal base.

Positing this question to him over beverages was a key component of my strategy.  Milton is not a fan of climbing stairs. The downside of visiting the Christopher Columbus penthouse is that it happens to be in a six-floor walkup. Fortunately, due to the upside of the decision-impairing effects of a few pints, Milton was feeling game.

What drew me to this exhibit was the sheer novelty of really seeing a thirteen-foot statue that I have only known from afar for the twenty-eight years I have lived on the Upper West Side.  Whenever I walk past it I primarily glance at the sixty-foot pedestal base and the protrusions in the column representing the sailing ships, the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.  I, like my fellow New Yorkers, have been completely oblivious to the details of the marble statue on top. Apparently, it was sculpted by Gaetano Russo and completed in 1892 in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus landing in America.  Even though Columbus Circle is a vast transportation hub, I’m quite sure this is not the exact spot where the legendary explorer set anchor. Presented with the opportunity to see this monument up close and personal in a living room setting with spectacular views and full of furniture from Bloomingdale’s and Mitchell Gold, hey, count me in.

Fast-forward a month later. Milton is now stone cold sober, recovering from a cold and feeling much less game about this visit than me.  The fact that this exhibit is free is a huge plus with him, and I did the work with getting our timed tickets to attend.  All he had to do was show up and meet me there.  We arrive forty-five minutes early for our 7 pm viewing but we’re told to return a half hour later for they follow the schedule closely.  We kill time roaming the area.

Detail of sailing ships protruding from statue’s column in pedestal base.

Visitors on observation deck taking pictures.

Milton looks up at the outdoor staircase with sheer contempt.

Exit side staircase.

Milton: Do you know what I hate more than anything?  Stairs.

Then, he notices there’s an elevator.

Elevator.

That gives him hope.  A half hour passes and we join the line to enter.

Fast moving orderly line.

The line moves quickly and the wait is short, but Milton is feeling cranky.

Milton: I can’t believe we’re standing in line to climb six flights of stairs to see a statue.  This is proof that you can get people in New York to do anything.  They’ll climb enough stairs to see a sandwich.

Egg salad sandwich as never seen before with a spoon. This was not waiting for us six flights up.

A worker scans our timed tickets that grant us thirty minutes to view the exhibit.  Milton, looking longingly at the lift, awkwardly asks:

Milton:  Is it possible to take the elevator, or is it just for, you know, the handicapped?

When he says “the handicapped”, his voice drifts for he anticipates the answer that’s coming.

Exhibit worker:  It’s just for people that really need it.

Milton resists mentioning that he’s recovering from a cold.  He crabs at me:

Milton:  I’m walking slow.  We’ve got more than enough time to see four walls.

I figure that when we reach the top we’ll both be huffing and puffing like two steam engines. It’s possible that one or both of us will require a hit of oxygen from a tank.  The further we climb the more the gray steel utilitarian steps make creaking sounds.

Milton’s nervous feet standing on creaky steel platform.

Milton announces:

Milton:  Did you hear that?  Now my vertigo’s setting in. [light bulb] Oh!  Did I tell you that I just saw that film again when they screened it at Film Forum?

Me:  Really?  They screened Vertigo?

I chatter with Milton about Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece to distract him.  I take a picture of the view up Broadway.

Looking north up Broadway where car lights are bright.

Somehow we reach the top without collapsing.  In fact, neither of us is remotely winded.  It is an easy climb.

Carpet in entryway.

We walk down a narrow hallway, enter the 800 square foot living room with a sixteen-foot tall ceiling and see the centerpiece attraction, Christopher Columbus.

This guy is hard to miss.

That was surreal.

Yes, that’s the 120 year old Columbus Circle statue standing on a coffee table in the middle of a living room.

The statue is made to appear like it is perched on a coffee table.  Actually, the table has been built around the statue,  which is an imposing presence and showing its 120 year age.  I agree with Roberta Smith, the reviewer with The New York Times who observed that,  “… weather and pollution have reduced the marble to something that looks like cast concrete.”  After the exhibit ends the statue will undergo cleaning and repair.

“I need a bath and some work done.”

Tatzu Nishi has covered the walls of the room with whimsical pink and gold wallpaper he designed featuring everything you need to know about American culture — Elvis, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, a hotdog, Martin Luther King, Jr. with Malcolm X, the Empire State Building, Coca Cola,  McDonalds, baseball and Mickey Mouse.

Cultural highlights of America Tatzu Nishi-style.

A 55-inch high definition TV plays CNN non-stop.

Obama’s in the house!

The sofa and chairs are plush and look very comfortable.

Have a seat.

The polished hardwood floors are covered with area rugs.  The bookcase is full of books by American authors encouraging visitors to sit back and leaf through the pages, but during our visit, no one read.

Bookcase with untouched selection of books.

Unread but probably very carefully selected books.

The primary focal points were the statue and the view.

Looking south down Eighth Avenue.

Visitors like to duplicate the Columbus pose in front of the statue. Milton and I resisted doing this.

Wall art.

Not wall art.

Being in such close proximity to the statue and observing this magnificent view from the same perch reminded us that this is usually only available to New Yorkers that were born as pigeons.

Nice hat.

This exhibit, which runs through November 18th, is a treat for anyone without wings.  Even Milton’s grousing came to an abrupt end as he took photographs with his iPhone.  Milton, his dour mood lifted, observed:

Milton:  His outfit is so fab!

The original “I see land” pose.

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102 responses to “Lame Adventure 344: Visiting Christopher Columbus in His Penthouse

  1. Thanks for the tour. Love the pic looking down Broadway. Meanwhile, Milton is obvious a good friend, but whew …. high maintenance! ;) Next time, get him ready with a few limoncellos!

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  2. Where, oh where, to begin?

    I didn’t think you’d be able to top the pens, but you did with the free art tour on Tuesday. Now you’ve blown my mind again with ANOTHER free cultural expedition in the world’s greatest city. Okay I’ve never been sold on that monicker but I do believe the NYC chamber of commerce probably copyrighted that phrase. I think cutting back on the number of LA’s to twice, vice thrice, weekly is already paying HUGE dividends. (Like the simple rhyme scheme I employed there?)

    Okay, back to your post. I was more than relieved to learn that neither you nor Milton were in need of CPR after your grueling Everest-like conquest of those 6, count ‘em 6, flights of stairs. Now I am by no means in great shape. But me thinks Milton probably ought to cut back on the intake of suds for 6 months and see if that puts him in more of a stair climbing mood. Of course I do recall that the intake of said suds does have a lubricating effect on his willingness to take on such Herculean tasks.

    On to the apartment’s decor. I couldn’t help thinking to myself as I read about Tatsu or Tatzu Nishi’s (spelled both ways above) name. Having just, ahem, mastered the memorization of the basic 46 hiragana characters (and the 20 variations) I kept tracing them in my mind as I read this piece. I will Google Nishi san to see whether it is Tatsu or Tatzu so I can do it correctly in my mind. On second thought I’ll stick with Tatsu, cuz that’s way easier.

    Enough about me–really? Anyway, WTF was up about the wallpaper? I have my suspicions, but they shall be left unsaid.

    Regarding the “I see land” pose, I am thinking it’s more of a “Hey sailor, wanna buy me a drink?” moment.

    Thanks for the tour. Loved it.

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    • Glad you were entertained. Topping that box of pens in my building’s lobby was a challenge. I did consider writing about the binder that’s currently sitting on the radiator cover for the taking, but I decided we should stick with the plan and attend this exhibit instead.

      Thanks for pointing out my Tatzu typo Wingman-learning-Japanese. It’s since been fixed.

      What are your suspicions about the wallpaper? Don’t leave us in suspense!

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  3. Great “hike!” Wow you wouldn’t survive one of ours… :) I wonder how they will refurbish the statue. I gotta believe it will require more filler than peel!

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  4. Sooo…now after de-tchotchke-fying my apt, i get one-upped by the man who brought slavery and small pox to this country?
    I’m off to IKEA then to grandma’s house to steal her knick knacks.

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  5. I read that this was coming…..I guess I like the coffee table best. Thanks so much for the story and the pictures. Could you SIT in the chairs? How long did you get to stay? If my friend Amy who’s there this weekend try’s to get up to see him, tell me she won’t be able to – (“WAY too late at this point” no doubt). (I’m a little annoyed with Amy – she has way to much $$ and time than me – but she is my friend, so I’ll get over it.). Thanks again. Martha. (at work in a drabish office in VT – pretty out the window, but no 8th ave view.

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    • First of all, nice to hear from you Martha. Yes, visitors are encouraged to sit in the chairs and on the sofa. There’s a make yourself at home feel to it. Just click on the Discovering Columbus link I’ve embedded in the post. That will take Amy to the site where she can sign up for a timed ticket. There might be slots available this weekend so she should give it a shot. It’s open from 10 am – 9 pm daily. There was not a stampede when we were there but it is a very organized event. All offices can be drabish. My window has bars.

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  6. wow. so if I left now (patients in the waiting room – “fend for yourselves!”) – I MIGHT get in. Thanks again for all the info. Sorry about the bars on your office. As my dead mother would have said, “At least you HAVE an office”. My old appt. at 52nd between 8th and 9th used to have bars. So proud – they were my first big purchase. No doubt they reside there to this day. Thanks again for all the fine information. (you’re my only blog.).If you knew me, you’d know that’s saying something. but there we are. shouldn’t it be lunchtime soon?

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    • Hm, patients can wait? I hope you’re not a transplant surgeon.

      Gee, how flattering! Glad you appreciate the effort I make in trying to make these tales go down easy. I’m sure if this site was a foodstuff it would be one sky high in fat and sodium.

      Hey, keep in mind that you can order your ticket on line ahead of time i.e., like right now. I urge you to do so.

      Just stuffed myself with some TJ’s baked plantains. Not hungry yet.

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  7. LOVE the view from up there. And the wallpaper is pretty cool, as well. And it was free? Surely, that can’t be beat. The architect in Sara would love it!
    Hugs,
    Kathy

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    • That’s right you love the color pink! It is a terrific view. My camera doesn’t do it justice. Yes, it’s free. Free rocks. Sara might dig the intricate scaffolding that surrounds it. On the cool-o-meter it’s an overall 10.

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  8. I feel that I’ve seen that egg salad sandwich and spoon combo before ;D

    This seems like an interesting exhibit. I think I would hide under the sofa so I could live there. I’d get over the big statue of Columbus in the middle of the room.

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    • Yes, Emily, it’s a popular image of a sandwich. Tasted good, too.

      It would be pretty easy living there. I could deal with it being a walk-up for that view, but that statue is definitely not the kind of conversation you can easily put in storage if your mate nags at you to get rid if it, like a rubber chicken or an Abbott & Costello poster.

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      • Thanks for jogging my ADHD addled brain. Not a fan of egg salad. Actually can’t even get past the thought, let alone the smell, of mayo. And don’t give me any hoohaw about Miracle Whip or any other such nonsense. It’s all evil. Satan’s Spunk if you ask me. Yeah, I know you didn’t ask me.

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  9. On your advice I booked tickets for this. So I skipped reading this post so I can maintain some mystery. I can’t wait! I’ll go back and read after I have seen it, and probably bother you with e-mails and such.

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  10. This is fantastic! I really couldn’t figure out what was going on there. I think Margarita took some pics of the scaffolding. I’m bummed it will be gone when I’m visiting. Thank you so much for sharing!

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  11. Saturdays are sold out, sold out, sold out. Alas, I fear I will not get to see this and I really wanted to.

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  12. I need to see this. That is, if it’s still up. Clearly I haven’t been near Columbus Circle in a while. But tell Milton I share his hatred of stairs. Even when I was 17 and probably in the best shape of my life, stairs were my nemesis.

    But why did you have to go and tell us that Columbus Circle ISN’T where Columbus landed in the New World?? Do you have proof? Because I refuse to believe that it isn’t true.

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  13. Okay last thing. Loved that it is your 2nd favorite four letter “f” word. What is your 2nd favorite eleven letter “c” word?

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  14. Very nice adventure, V. Not at all lame. Very cool to see a bazillion-year-old statue (just think of the hands/eyes that have touched and gazed upon Columbus). I liked the funky wallpaper and nice to know you didn’t have any major stair incidents. I also like the added danger aspect of not having 50 people in there at one time. I’ll be in the city before mid-November so perhaps this is something we can check out.

    You and Milton sound like an eclectic Laverne and Shirley. Or Lucy and Ethel. Or Ben and Jerry. Or Dean and Jerry. Or George and Gracie.

    Happy weekend and look forward to hearing about the next adventure….

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    • Hey Brig, if you know the dates when you’re going to be in the Apple, you might want to book your tickets now for the dates and times can sell out. We only shot for week days.

      Milton likes to think of himself as Rhoda. I think I’m Murray.

      Happy weekend to you, too!

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  15. I’m speechless. ;-)

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  16. I wonder if Chris would have “discovered” America if he knew his statue would be in a room covered by hot dog wall paper? I know I would.

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  17. V.,
    This was so cool! Kind of like some of the Christo exhibits in the 80s but far more clever. I got to see a couple of Christo’s adventures – The Pink Islands in Miami and the Pont Neuf that he wrapped in gold plastic in Paris. But I love Tatzu Nishi’s idea of putting Chris in a living room setting! Up close and personal. Loved it.

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    • It did bring Christo to my mind, too, Cathy! I have some fabric swatches in my sanctum sanctorum from the project he and Jeanne-Claude constructed in Central Park in 2005 called The Gates. It is very cool to be in the room with that statue as the centerpiece.

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  18. I’m glad you were able to convince your friend against his better judgement (and sober!) to go see this. I’m quite surprised sometimes by how delighted I am by works of art like this that I don’t really get. I got a chance to see one of Christo’s works (the yellow umbrellas in Southern California circa 1992), which I didn’t care for. But one which i really enjoyed was a sort of spontaneous piece of art that started in my town. A building had been torn down, and for a brief time the lot was vacant. One day there was an ironing board and iron standing alone in the middle of the lot. I thought “What the hell is that?” but didn’t think more of it until more household objects (including a bathtub) started showing up. I contributed a coffee cup, and although I never saw anyone else put stuff on there (it just appeared as if by magic!) I think it had spread beyond its original creators. It was really neat (and that’s such a prosaic word, but I think it does admirably here), and I was really pleased to see that it lasted until construction started on a new building. It was probably only a month from first appearance to disappearance, but it had begun to seem like a town fixture. Much nicer than the multi-use space they put there.

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    • Smak, it sounds like that project in your town was something that everyone that wanted to participate could do so. With Discovering Columbus, anyone that makes the effort to get a timed ticket can spend up to a half hour in that living room in the statue’s presence. It’s free and open to all. I’ve seen that statue for the 30 years I’ve lived in New York, but I had no idea what it really looked like until I was granted this unusual glimpse. Thanks for sharing the stories about your encounters with public art projects.

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  19. Very cool statue. Nothing exciting ever happens here. Except for body parts being mailed to government buildings and elementary schools. Yawn.

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  20. One of your best adventures, ever! Oh, I wish I could have been there. Milton was a pretty good sport, even with all the whining. Only in NY – a gigantic statue in a penthouse suite. Columbus looked out of place – that goes without saying (but I said it anyway). Hope no one left their coffee cups or keys sitting in the folds of his robe.

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    • Attending this exhibit had been on my mind since August and I knew it had “Lame Adventures” written all over it. How often will Milton and I get the opportunity to lounge around with that statue? I did not notice any errant coffee cups or signs of coffee cup rings during our visit, but I would not be surprised if some visitors have lost keys and change in the furniture creases. I know I keep some of my best cookie crumbs in mine.

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  21. Lame, you made my day. This is a fantastic post. The idea of siting a parlour round Columbus with wide screen telly makes me grin from ear to ear, and MIlton is right: just look at that outfit. If I could afford the plane fare and the hotel bill I’d be there tomorrow. Only in New York.

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    • Kate, I so wish you could see it for the way you tackle historical subjects I’m sure you’d teach me plenty about the artist, the statue and Columbus himself. If my apartment was not the spawn of the seventh circle of hell I’d suggest you hop on that plane and just crash here, but I keep the suffering down to one.

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  22. Great views from up there, LA, and I am with both of you regarding the stairs. I get out of breath stepping up one single step! And the statue in the living room is a surreal experience – I felt it from the photo so it must have been really surreal to see it in person!

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    • The views are spectacular from Chris’s perch, Tom. Entering that living room and seeing him from behind is so surreal. It’s a very clever approach to getting people to explore that monument to a legendary explorer in a very unique and intimate way. As much as we dreaded climbing those stairs, the climb wasn’t bad at all. It certainly was far easier than his journey to this side of the pond.

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  23. I’m a little disappointed that Chris didn’t clean himself up BEFORE having guests. Especially when he knew a month in advance that you and Milton were coming over. I wish Milton had taken a photo of you next to the statue. It would have been nice to see two world-famous adventurers next to each other.

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    • Ditto on the missed photo-op. Could have been used for the cover of next year’s UNICO spaghetti and meatballs scholarship dinner down at the Italian-American Hall.

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    • Ha! had I posed with Chris I suppose he could have flashed his sign reading, “I’m with stupid.” Good points all Russell, but I think “they” decided to keep Chris in his current scruffy state should one of his more cloddish guests spill something on him — but he must welcome taking a break from the steady stream of pigeon droppings.

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  24. Just saw a report about this on CNN! …. Nonetheless, I learned about this here FIRST!

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