Tag Archives: public art fund

Lame Adventure 365: I, Numbskull

In February, I received an email from the Public Art Fund announcing that a new outdoor art exhibit was opening on March 5th called United Enemies. It’s comprised of two monumental bronze sculptures by Thomas Schütte.  Both sculptures feature a pair of angry men tied together but struggling to pull apart.  They are so consumed with contempt for each other their faces are distorted.  Naturally I thought:

Me: The Democrats and the Republicans!

Apparently, I was onto something for I learned some specifics about its origin:

“Conceived during a residency in Italy at a time when several politicians had been arrested for corruption, this series of works refers obliquely to these individuals, though the figures represented in the work are mythical characters rather than specific people.”

Last week, the Public Art Fund sent me an email reminding me that the exhibit has officially opened, or at least that’s what I thought the email was about. I didn’t read the email’s text.  I looked at the image and instantly thought these pairs of freaky gents would be welcome on my site.

Take fifteen seconds to read this.

Too busy to take fifteen seconds to read this.

On Sunday afternoon, I hopped on the downtown 1 local subway train, exited at 59th Street and walked east down Central Park West, prepared to take my usual mediocre photographs. As I passed each entrance and exit to the park, I was confounded for I could not find these sculptures. I knew they weren’t lawn jockey size.  Since they were bronze behemoths I thought it was highly unlikely that they were stolen or damaged.  When I reached Fifth Avenue, I considered asking a carriage horse driver if he knew where they were, but that struck me as absurd since they were obviously nowhere to be found.

I then proceeded to retrace my steps going west. I looked closer at each entrance and exit to the park, but still, there was no sign of these sculptures and my bafflement escalated.  Why didn’t I read the text in that email?  Was this exhibit postponed or opening at a later date?  I walked up Central Park West and looked over the lower end of the park.  All I saw was a woman walking two poodles clad in coats that surely cost more than my crappy down jacket.

Then, I had a light bulb: I’d look at the email!  Last Xmas The Boss gave me a refurbished iPod Touch.  I turned it on, but could not access the internet.  I felt foiled and regretted only being able to afford a dumb phone.  I really did not want to return home to read that email on my home computer, but then I had another light bulb: I may have a dumb phone but I have friends with smart phones. First, I called Milton, but he wasn’t around.  Next, I texted Coco, but she wasn’t around.  Last, I tried my pal, Lola.  She wasn’t around, either. I gave up and proceeded to walk home.  As I neared 66th Street Milton called:

Milton: You rang.

Me: Yeah. I’m trying to photograph a Public Art Fund exhibit near the entrance of Central Park, but I don’t know what entrance it’s at.  Can you research it for me?

Milton: What’s the name of the exhibit?

Me: The artist is Thomas something, a German-sounding name.  Just Google Public Art Fund.

Milton: What’s the first word I’m Googling?

Me:  Public.

Milton: What?

Me: Public.

Milton: Say again.

Me: Public.  Like the Public Theater, but don’t Google the Public Theater

Milton: Oh.  Public. The Public what?

Me: Art Fund.

Milton: The Public Art Fund.

[Channeling Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins: By Jove, I think he’s got it!]

Milton: It’s in the Doris C. Freedman Plaza at 60th Street and Fifth Avenue. Who’s Doris C. Freedman?  Where the hell is that?

Me: I have no idea. I’ve just spent the last hour walking up and down Central Park West like an idiot.

Milton: Figure it’s by the Plaza Hotel.

The Plaza Hotel.

The Plaza Hotel.

Me: I was just by the Plaza Hotel.

Milton: You were probably on the 59th Street side.  Go to 60th.

Just then a 66th Street cross-town bus arrived. I stood behind two senior citizens that paid their fares in loose change.  This took an eternity to accomplish.  I counted the traffic light change three times and began regretting not carrying a sleeping bag.  The bus crossed the park. I exited at Fifth Avenue to continue my crusade.  Metal stands left over from the St. Patrick’s Day parade were still crowding the sidewalk.

Metal stands hogging sidewalk.

Metal stands hogging sidewalk.

I noticed several well-heeled pedestrians carrying shopping bags from the tony department stores in the area walking in the street.  Clearly they have better health insurance than me. Finally, as I approached 60th Street I saw the sculptures in the distance.

Hallelujah moment.

Hallelujah moment.

Putting their best peg leg forward.

Putting their best peg leg forward.

From this angle these guys brought to mind former governor of Alabama George Wallace.

From this angle these guys brought to mind former governor of Alabama George Wallace.

Two more miserable bronze dudes.

Two more miserable bronze dudes.

Pastoral shot of park doubling as eyeball cleanse.

Picturesque shot of park doubling as eyeball cleanse.

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.


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.