This major new artwork has been created for New York City’s Columbus Circle by the Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi. The work places the 13-foot-tall statue of Columbus in the center of an American living room six stories above the city streets, recontextualizing the historical monument and temporarily transforming it into a contemporary artwork. The room will feature many of the trappings of a domestic living room—lamps, a couch, a coffee table, a television, and more—as well as custom wallpaper by the artist. Through large, loft-style windows, visitors will have dramatic views of Central Park and Midtown Manhattan that will be seen from Columbus’s perspective for the first time.
Tatzu Nishi has developed a reputation internationally for transforming elements of a city like statues or architectural details and revealing them to the public in new ways. Some two years ago, Public Art Fund approached the artist about creating a work for New York City. He visited, spent time exploring the City, and became familiar with its monuments. He was drawn to the statue in the center of Columbus Circle. He noticed that despite its central location, Columbus himself is seen only as a distant silhouette some 70 feet overhead— a figure hiding in plain sight atop a column six stories above the ground. Like many of Nishi’s artworks, this piece offers the public access to a statue that they would not otherwise see up close.
Erected in 1892, this monument was designed by the Italian artist Gaetano Russo to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas. Atop the monument is a larger-than-life marble statue of explorer Christopher Columbus, who surveys the City from his perch some 70 feet above the street. He stands on a granite column featuring bronze ships’ prows and anchors that refer to his famous voyage with the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. Supporting the column is a base adorned with bas relief plaques portraying Columbus’s journey in addition to an American bald eagle, and an allegorical figure titled the “Genius of Discovery.” The monument was sponsored by Il Progresso Italo-Americano, a New York City-based Italian-language newspaper.
In conjunction with this exhibition, Public Art Fund is overseeing the conservation of the Columbus Monument in cooperation with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.
The monument was unveiled in 1892, and in the hundred years since, its marble and original materials have been ravaged by time and weather requiring that he monument be thoroughly cleaned, with small cracks and damaged masonry joints being filled.
Columbus Circle was first restored in time for the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s journey to the Americas in 1992. Then, in 2005, the City unveiled the “new Columbus Circle” aimed at making the site more hospitable for visitors. The roadways were reconfigured, pedestrian walkways were improved, and a green sitting area was created and filled with benches, shrubs, and flowering plants. The conservation of the column and statue undertaken in connection with this exhibition will complete the restoration work to the site.
Conservation began in June 2012 and will be completed in early January 2013. The scaffolding supporting the living room is allowing conservators to access the column and figure at its top.