discovering columbus, columbus circle

Columbus Circle is at the southwest corner of Central Park and at the intersection of West 59th, CPW, 8th, and Broadway, but I know it better as the subway stop where I can transfer between the ABCD and 1 trains. In other words, it’s a pretty important location although I rarely venture above ground. Fun fact: It’s also the point from which all official distances from NYC are measured.

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For the past few weeks (and until November 18) there’s a temporary art installation by Tatzu Nishi and the Public Art Fund called Discovering Columbus and it’s pretty cool. At Columbus Circle there’s a marble statue of Christopher Columbus (erected in 1892) by Gaetano Russo … but it doesn’t get much attention because it’s high up on a column. So the installation plays with the perspective of that statue.

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Basically they built a living room around the statue of Columbus so it appears as if he’s just hanging out on the coffee table. It’s weird because the statue’s gigantic and it’s such a surreal space with couches, CNN on the television, and a ridiculous pink wallpaper designed by the artist. However, unlike most living rooms, it was crowded, everyone was still wearing their coats, conversation was limited, and most people just walked around taking pictures or posing for pictures.

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It was neat to see the statue up close since it was never intended to be viewed like that. But … it seemed a little demeaning as well, to create this freaky casual staged setting around Russo’s statue, which was obviously meant to be monumental and inspiring with the tall column and prominent location. What does it mean for one artist (Tatzu Nishi) to co-opt the work of another artist (Gaetano Russo) to create his own artwork? It doesn’t respect the original artist’s intentions, desires, or beliefs, but should it?

You had to climb quite a few stairs to get to the room, but it was manageable, and since you had to already have an entry pass (you can get them free on the website), the wait wasn’t long. Overall it took about half an hour between waiting and being up there since there’s really not much to do but take pictures and then leave. Discovering Columbus was worth the trip (’cause it’s free and not time-consuming) and it’s a success in terms of lots of people being interested, being a unique experience, and questioning the monumentality and aloofness of such a statue. But I still kind of feel bad for Russo’s Columbus being gawked at like that.


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