arts 10.22.04

Public Sculpture - Part 2

Part two of our article on Public Sculpture. To read part one, click here.

Alice in Wonderland, by Jose de Creeft, was installed in 1959 near the Conservatory Pond in Central Park. "It was a revolution," said Mr. Otterness because sculpture "came off the pedestal and onto the ground. It's meant for people to crawl on it." He says there was a plaster model in the studio and, because the handholds and the crawling and climbing distances are so right for little bodies, Mr. Otterness thinks that de Creeft must have tested it with kids. "It's a constant performance piece and a built-in photo opportunity as people engage with it in a tactile way. You see the areas where the bronze gets polished from being touched so often, a mark of people's affection."

Stay in Central Park and walk just to the south side of the Met where you find Three Bears by Paul Manship; Mr. Otterness notes that the bears also get a good polishing from fans. Manship did the Lehman Gates at the 66th Street entrance to the zoo, though his most famous work in the city is Prometheus at Rock Center.

The New Ring Shout, (1994), a collaboration among Houston Conwill, Joseph De Pace, and Estella Conwill Majozo, is located in the lobby of 290 Bway [Duane], on the site of the African Burial Ground. A 40-foot diameter of polished stone, it is divided into three concentric circles and contains a map of NYC marked with evocative and celebratory sites, lines from songs, the names of the tribes of the slave trade, and quotes from 14 men and women on the subject of freedom. "It's a rational structure, but when you walk through it, you only get a piece of it. You make assumptions from the fragments, from the five different rationales working together, and the result is poetic." Mr. Otterness picks up the words Speech, Vision, Balance, and Grace set in four circles at the compass points of the cosmogram. "If you just walk through and see those words, they are a flattering vision of a person. There are a hundred different angles on a kind of unification, an almost ungraspable kind of complication. But it has a structure spiraling toward the center, which gives it a unity. There is a sense (when you stop) that the whole world seems to be pinned on the place where you are standing."

William Butler Yeats' words "in dreams begin responsibilities" stream out of a coffee cup in Elizabeth Murray's mosaic room known as Blooming (1996-1998), in the Lexington Ave./59th St. subway station. Rolf Olhausen, the architect who oversaw the project, said the interchange between the N, R and the 4, 5, and 6 lines, "one of the most Kafkaesque spaces in the system, has been transformed by art." It's the first station where art has been used floor to ceiling, wall to wall. An almost childlike tree, some rising suns, birds and many shoes are mixed in with coffee and tea cups. At one point you walk through a large teacup doorway. Mr. Otterness marvels, "You are walking through a total environment on this large artery between all the lines. You will physically have to walk around and through it in order to see it. You have to remember what you've seen before in order to understand what you are seeing now. It is like being inside of a sculpture, have to walk around on the inside of it, rather than around the outside of it."
Among the many virtues of the Public Art Fund is their Tuesday Night Talks series. We're particularly looking forward to the one on November 30, when Janet Cardiff speaks. Ms. Cardiff was behind the extraordinary audio walk through Central Park this year called "Her Long Black Hair." The talk begins at 6:30pm at the New School, 66 W. 12th [5th/6th] and costs $5. You can reserve by emailing

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