The Fund for Park Avenue has made a strip of Park Avenue on the Upper East Side a go-to location for public art installations, and recent pieces have evoked both a sense of whimsy and a chin scratching, "How'd they do that?" Starting in January 2011, Will Ryman's enormous metal roses blossomed on Park Avenue. During the snowy winter Ryman's installation offered a promise of warmer months ahead, and by the time the oversized flowers were taken down in May, we here in the city had real live flowers to keep us feeling springy. More recently, Rafael Barrios created incredible optical illusion sculptures, appearing as a 3-dimensional stack of boxes from some angles and a thin strip of metal from others. I first noticed Barrios's installation as I walked with a group of 50 4th Graders from our school to the China Institue as part of a Social Studies field trip. Of course, we were all in awe of the way these sculptures played tricks on our minds, and soon we were paused on the sidewalk, discussing the concept of optical illusions and hypothesizing about how the artist had executed such a cool idea.
Today I headed to the Upper West Side to experience Public Art Fund's newest installation, Discovering Columbus by Tatzu Nishi. The piece has only been open for a few weeks, but it's been on my radar for months, as excitement for a fully outfitted living room built around the 13ft tall statue at Columbus Circle has been mounting all summer. To view the exhibit, patrons ascend six flights of stairs encased in elaborate scaffolding. As I climbed upwards I could see the column of the statue, adorned with both Italian and English inscriptions and the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria recreated in bronze.
At the top of the stairs we entered a living room that, at least initially, felt like any other well-appointed Manhattan apartment. Visitors lounged on comfortable couches or sat across a coffee table on low-slung chairs. A flat screen was tuned to CNN and through the window panes one could see unobstructed views of the city. Of course, the centerpiece of this living room was the statue of Christopher Columbus. The experience was surreal to say the least. I kept momentarily forgetting that this was the same statue one would normally have to gaze up at from 75ft below the room where I now stood.