Last week I featured Tatzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus on my Don’t Miss List for September. Two New Hampshire friends, who were on their way to Manhattan this weekend, asked me to recommend the one thing they shouldn’t miss during their trip. My response: Discovering Columbus, which finally opened yesterday.
Since no interior photos of the installation were available last week, a few readers were clearly baffled by the project when it appeared on my list. Trying to explain the project in person proved to be no easier:
Me raving with enthusiasm: “It’s Christopher Columbus…inside a room!”
Skeptical friends starting at me with pity and suspicion: “Hmm. Right. Sounds interesting. But what exactly is it again?”
Tatzu Nishi, a Japanese artist who lives in Berlin, Germany, and Tokyo, Japan, is known for his unconventional, site-specific public art projects, which transform historical monuments by placing them in domestic settings. The idea is to place public monuments, which are so often invisible and taken for granted, into a new context. After all, how often are we allowed to get up close and personal with a 13-foot statue with Christopher Columbus?
To better understand the Columbus project, it’s useful to look back at some of Nishi’s earlier projects. In 2002 the artist created Villa Victoria, a temporary functioning hotel around a statue of Queen Victoria for the Liverpool Biennial, and in 2011 the artist built a temporary hotel suite around Singapore’s iconic Merlion fountain for the Singapore Biennial. As these photos show, Nishi’s invented domestic spaces are surprising, highly original, as well as intimate.
Until yesterday, the interior of Nishi’s latest installation, Discovering Columbus, was a secret. But on Thursday the public art project, a living room that hovers six stories above Columbus Circle, officially opened. Luckily, artist Amy Jenkins was one of the first in line to attend the opening and sent these exclusive photos to Gwarlingo.
“I was certainly transfixed,” Jenkins told me in an email. “It was a truly magical experience and reminded me of why I love New York.”
Perched on top of six flights of stairs and metal scaffolding, Nishi has cleverly placed Gaetano Russo’s 1892 sculpture of Christopher Columbus inside of an airy living room. The 13-foot marble statue sits on top of a coffee table in a space that measures 30 feet by 27 feet. The ceilings are 16-feet high in order to accommodate this oversized, coffee-table “knickknack.”
Magazines and books are scattered on the table beside the statue. Guests hang out on the couch as though they were watching the game at a friend’s house (conveniently, a working flat-screen television is nearby, but sadly, is tuned to CNN). The pink wallpaper, which depicts pop culture icons like Elvis, McDonald’s Malcom X, and Marilyn Monroe, is another special detail designed by Nishi.
The installation works on many levels. It forces visitors to reconsider Columbus, as both a monument and an historical figure. Nishi’s soaring space also gives visitors a chance to see what Columbus has been seeing for the past 120 years. It’s a chance to view New York from a perspective that’s never been possible before. As Jenkins reports, the views are spectacular:
“The common industrial exterior conceals an interior where magic happens. From the anticipation of the people in line and the expanding street views as you climb the scaffolding, to the surprising warmth of a room with inviting chairs and Columbus’ stare, I felt like I was being invited to an Alice-in-Wonerland party. Was I tiny under Columbus or was I towering large above the city people below? Strangers sharing this experience suddenly started chatting to one another, asking, can you take my picture with Columbus? While others lounged about reading magazines left on the chairs. A convivial feeling hung in the air. I had a hard time returning to street level because the intimate, transformative experience was exactly what I love about art, but so rarely find.”
As I reported last week, the Public Art Fund is simultaneously overseeing the conservation of the Columbus Monument in cooperation with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. (The scaffolding supporting Nishi’s living room serves a dual-purpose by allowing conservators to access the column and figure at its top.) The restoration is expected to be completed by January of 2013.
Tazu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus is on view through November 18th. Tickets to climb six stories to this home-away-from-home are free, but must be booked in advance. (Elevator access is available for those who require special assistance.) Over 100,000 people are expected to visit the installation (one roomful at a time). You can register for free tickets at the Public Art website. There are also lots of great images of Tatzu Nishi’s previous projects on his his website.
A big thank you to Amy Jenkins for sharing her photographs and first-hand account of her visit to Discovering Columbus. At 5:3 p.m. on Sunday, September 23rd, Amy’s short experimental documentary, Audrey Superhero, will be included in the Body and Material program of the Greenpoint Film Festival in Brooklyn. The screening is located at 186 Huron Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Jenkins will be part of a panel discussion after the screening. The Greenpoint Film Festival runs from Thursday through Sunday, and there are other great programs to check out as well. For information about Amy Jenkins’ work, please visit her website.