Wednesday, January 31, 2007

King Jagiello: OMOM Essay 39

Why do we have a statue in Central Park of a medieval king of Poland? And why would Hitler surely have destroyed this sculpture, had it been returned to Poland after the New York World’s Fair of 1939? That’s the focus of “About the Sculpture.” “About the Subject” focuses on the battle between Jagiello’s army and the Teutonic Knights at Grunwald (1410).

Several sources called this Jagiello a copy of the Cracow statue of Jagiello that was sponsored by world-renowned pianist Ignacy Paderewski and was destroyed on Hitler’s orders. Although I didn't have space to discuss this in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan, research showed that Central Park's Jagiello is not a copy of Paderewski's, as you can see by comparing a model of the Cracow sculpture (scroll down in the left-hand frame) with the photo above.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Richard Morris Hunt Memorial: OMOM Essay 38

In “About the Sculpture” I mention a benefit of looking that art that you can enjoy even if you disagree vehemently with what’s represented: the pleasure of seeing a difficult problem resolutely tackled and brilliantly solved. In the Afterword of Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan I discuss at greater length the benefits of studying sculpture.

The building that Hunt (d. 1895) designed for Greeley’s New York Tribune (see Essays 7 and 21) was twice as tall as any other commercial building in New York, but did not qualify as a skyscraper by the standards of most architectural historians. More on the 1873 Tribune Building in “About the Subject.”

In the Sidebar sculptor Karl Bitter, who worked with Hunt and also created the Schurz Memorial (Essay 51), vividly evokes Hunt’s character. I love it when I can have one historical figure in OMOM comment on another.

Monday, January 29, 2007

New York Times review of OMOM

The City section of the New York Times for Sunday 1/28/07 carried a positive review of Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan. This is wonderful news, because the Sunday Times has enormous prestige and a circulation of 1.6 million or so. The text of the review follows. If you'd like to see the review in situ, following the review of the autobiography of a 74-year-old heroin dealer now in a witness protection program (I am not making that up), email me for a scanned image of the page.
Reading New York Tales From Mr. Untouchable, and a Stroll Among the Statues Nicky Barnes [the heroin dealer] cited the statute of limitations. In "Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide" (NYU Press, $18.95 paperback, $60 cloth), Dianne Durante suggests that there are few limitations to statues. "They can make you stop, look and think when you'd swear your brain was too tired to function," she writes. "The achievements and the virtues of the people represented in these statues can help supply the emotional fuel - the psychological energy - that keeps you going." Her guidebook is a perfect walking-tour accompaniment to help New Yorkers and visitors find, identify and better appreciate statues famous and obscure (honoring, among others, the "father of gynecology" and the general who had an unremarkable military and business career but composed taps, the bugle call). While the tone is sometimes preachy and pedantic (the book concludes with a tutorial on how to read a sculpture), Ms. Durante winsomely places 54 monuments in historical and artistic perspective. We learn that a trumpet is an allegory for announcing fame, that the monument to Admiral Farragut in Madison Square Park altered the course of American sculpture, that the figure with the winged hat atop Grand Central Terminal is Mercury and that the statue of Atlas at Rockefeller Center was reviled when it was unveiled in 1937 because it supposedly resembled Mussolini. Let's hope Ms. Durante follows up in the other four boroughs.
"Preachy and pedantic," like "formulaic" in the Sculpture magazine review (see the blog entry of 1/18/07), presumably refer to the fact that I have a well defined method and stringent standards.

William Shakespeare: OMOM Essay 37

"About the Sculpture" for this essay was challenging because I aimed to explain Ayn Rand's term "metaphysical value-judgments." By this point in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan I had discussed so many ideas that were implied by sculptures (rather than explicitly illustrated) that I thought readers would have the necessary foundation for a discussion of MVJs. The essay's hook is the description of a laser technology that creates the equivalent of a 3-D photograph, which introduces the issue of why a mechanical reproduction isn't art, which leads to selectivity, and thence to why an artist would select a certain subject or detail over others.

"About the Subject" reviews New Yorkers' attitudes toward Shakespeare through the 19th century. Did you know that in 1849 twenty-two people were killed at Astor Place in riots over a certain actor's portrayal of Macbeth?

The Forgotten Delights calendar has a close-up of Shakespeare's head and torso along with Polonius's advice from Hamlet.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Christopher Columbus: OMOM Essay 36

In this "About the Sculpture" I zoom in from the sculpture as a whole to one detail: the gesture of Columbus's left hand. Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan adds a comparison with Roscoe Conkling's hand (Essay 18) to the comparison with Vanderbilt's hand that appeared in Forgotten Delights: The Producers.

"About the Subject" mentions a few of the festivities honoring the 400th anniversary of Columbus's first voyage to America. Among them was the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the setting for Erik Larson's bestseller The Devil in the White City. (I rarely read true crime stories, but that one was excellent.)

In my usual obsession with identifying details (see America in Essay 4 and the Washington Arch, Essay 12), I spent considerable time trying to get a good view of the medallion hanging around Columbus's neck. I'm fairly certain it's a woman, and I'd guess that it's Columbus's patron Queen Isabella - but it might be the Virgin Mary. I didn't have the nerve to ask the Parks Department if I could borrow one of their phone-repair cherry-picker tree-trimmer lifts to inspect it more closely.

If you admire Columbus, go to the Columbus Monuments Pages: the man who runs the site attempts to list and post an image of every known sculpture of Columbus. Of those I've seen, my favorite is one by Ludwig Habich at Bremerhaven, Germany. Look it up in the geographical index in the left-hand frame.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Columbus Monument: OMOM Essay 35

In "About the Sculpture" I discuss how the many subsidiary elements of the Monument combine with the figure of Columbus to convey one distinct message about him. In Forgotten Delights: The Producers I had rather more fun with this section, proposing changes to the subsidiary details that completely changed the Monument's message. Alas, that was another section cut from Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan to keep it to a manageable length. (See the 1/2/07 blog entry on Cooper, OMOM Essay 10.)

"About the Subject" focuses on the combination of thoughts and actions that made Columbus unique.

The Forgotten Delights calendar shows a profile view of the Genius on the Monument's base.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Maine Monument: OMOM Essay 34

In "About the Sculpture" I wanted to stress that a work that's difficult to grasp, for example a complex allegorical sculpture such as the Maine Monument, can be very expressive once you understand it. Thinking this point would be more obvious in a verbal comparison, I amused myself by skimming all Shakespeare's sonnets while trying to recall mundane pop-music lyrics that expressed the same sentiments.

In "About the Subject" of Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan I delve into why the USS Maine was moored in Havana harbor and why investigators were unable to determine the cause of the explosion that blew her apart in February 1898. My out-takes file (some of which I'll eventually upload here or on the Forgotten Delights site) includes a gruesome description by one of the divers of the underwater investigation. If you're impatient, read Charles Morgan's account now.

The Forgotten Delights calendar shows a close-up of Columbia Triumphant (i.e., the United States) from the top of the Maine Monument, next to an excerpt from Badger Clark's "The Westerner," one of Ayn Rand's favorite poems.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Jose Marti: OMOM Essay 33

In "About the Sculpture" I return to the matter of selectivity, in this case the artist's choice of what moment to show in a portrait sculpture. This segues in "About the Subject" to why Marti is shown as he's dying - i.e., why his death in 1895 helped him become a hero to Cuba's multitude of political factions.

The caliber of Marti's writing was a pleasant surprise. His description of the Blizzard of 1888 in New York is extremely evocative. On the other hand, the philosophy behind his political writings is confusing, to say the least.

On the Forgotten Delights site you can see my favorite photo of Marti, which again was not high enough resolution to use in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan. Why didn't I simply retake that photo at a higher resolution? Not so easy with an outdoor sculpture. The time of day and the angle of view I can replicate; the time of the year and the cloud cover I cannot.

Simon Bolivar: OMOM Essay 32

Bolivar (d. 1830) is often called "the Washington of South America. "About the Subject" compares Bolivar's milieu and career to Washington's.

I was surprised to learn that this was the third Bolivar sculpture designed for New York. See the Bolivar essay on the Forgotten Delights site for the story of what happened after the first one was removed from its pedestal. In "About the Sculpture" I compare this Bolivar to nearby Marti (Essay 33) and San Martin, and to the Washington at Union Square (Essay 13).

It's virtually impossible to see or photograph Bolivar. As you can see in the otherwise useless photo above, it sits on a towering pedestal and for much of the year is heavily shaded by Central Park's trees. My best photo appears on the Forgotten Delights site, but its resolution wasn't high enough to use in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan. I had to resign myself to paying for the right to reproduce a Parks Department photo taken decades ago, when the statue was on a lower pedestal.

Sherman Monument: OMOM Essay 31

I'm fond of Saint Gaudens not only for the sculptures he produced, but for the way he approached art. "About the Sculpture" describes Saint Gaudens proposing to improve his assistants' skills by a hook-and-spring arrangement … You'll have to read it. Several critics have commented disparagingly that the striding woman and the equestrian figure don't seem to belong together, so I was careful to point out the elements that weld them into a visual unit.

For "About the Subject" in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan the obvious choice was Sherman's March through Georgia (see the Forgotten Delights essay on that topic), but at some point I stumbled across a reference to Sherman's 1863 court-martial of a journalist. This led to a fascinating investigation of 19th-c. communication technology, media and politics. The Sidebar gives an excerpt on the media from Sherman's Memoirs (which ought to rank as great American literature).

I sometimes fantasize about taking a high-powered water pistol with me when I photograph Sherman. It's so extraordinarily difficult to find a good angle that doesn't include multiple pigeons. I only want to make them fly away for a few minutes … Then again, they're destroying the gilding on the statue, so I'd prefer they perch elsewhere.

The Forgotten Delights calendar has a close-up of Victory's head and Sherman's famous comment on war.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

News: OMOM Essay 30

The surprise in researching this sculpture was that Noguchi, who's famous for his abstract works, once trained under Gutzon Borglum, who conceived Mount Rushmore and sculpted Butterfield (Essay 52). I use Noguchi's abstract works as the springboard for a discussion of Ayn Rand's theory of art's nature, function and purpose. In the Introduction to OMOM this discussion would have been bewildering for anyone unfamiliar with Ayn Rand's esthetics. At this point, midway through the book, I'm counting on the reader to have enough context to follow and retain such a discussion, even if he doesn't immediately agree. "About the Subject" recounts the origin and achievements of the Associated Press. For copyright reasons I can't include a photo of News on this blog, but there is one (bought and paid for) in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan. You can also see this Noguchi relief on the Net.

Atlas at Rockefeller Center: OMOM Essay 29

Prometheus was mocked when it was unveiled. Atlas (dedicated in 1937) drew a crowd of protesters. They said the face of Atlas looked too much like Benito Mussolini's. In "About the Subject" I present the evidence for that, along with critics' comments. ("Contains much material extraneous to art," sniped the director of the Whitney Museum. I'm still trying to make sense of that one.)

"About the Sculpture" returns to the issue of emotional reactions to art. Some fans of Ayn Rand love Atlas. A few (including me) dislike it intensely. Why would people with more or less the same values disagree on a work of art?

The Sidebar of this essay in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan is the only one with a quote from Ayn Rand. Bet you can guess which passage of which work is quoted.

Prometheus: OMOM Essay 28

Since Prometheus is now an icon of New York, it's jolting to read the negative comments made when it was unveiled in 1934: "just sprung from a bowl of hot soup," for example. In "About the Sculpture" I discuss this, and also return to the matter of subject vs. theme (see Charging Bull, Essay 5) - specifically how the theme would have differed had Manship chosen another episode from the Prometheus myth.

"About the Subject" in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan explains how the artists and themes for Rockefeller Center artwork were chosen, and why by the 1930s it was almost inconceivable that statues celebrating capitalism and businessmen would have been erected there, even though Rockefeller Center was built by America's wealthiest businessman.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Father Francis P. Duffy: OMOM Essay 27

"About the Sculpture" for Duffy is another exercise in determining the theme of a sculpture from its details. I also comment on the change in the subject and spirit of war memorials from the Civil War to the Viet Nam War, which I've discussed at greater length in my podcast on Battery Park war memorials.

From high school I had a basic knowledge of the causes of World War I, and from wide reading since then I knew it was considered "the war to end all wars." But I never grasped the horrors that faced soldiers there until I read Father Duffy's Story (1919) as research for this essay: bombs dropped from airplanes, chemical weapons that blinded and suffocated, plus sweeping epidemics of influenza, mumps, measles, etc., that killed thousands as they lay in the trenches or makeshift hospitals. The Sidebar of Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan is Duffy's description of men stricken by mustard gas.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

First Review of OMOM: Sculpture magazine's Insider, Jan./Feb. 2007

Yesterday a friend sent the first review I've seen of Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan, from the January/February 2007 issue of Sculpture, a leading magazine in the field of contemporary sculpture. The review appeared in their "Insider" section, which goes only to subscribers - the copy I picked up at the newsstand doesn't have it. The review takes up two-thirds of the Insider's table of contents page and includes a 3.5 x 2.5" image of OMOM's cover, as well as the following comments:
Anyone whose curiosity has ever been piqued by the peculiar mixture of historical statues that ornament the grounds of Central Park will find Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide by Dianne Durante a satisfying read. … Readers are encouraged to observe closely the significance of details that may be missed in a passing glance or even to the naked eye. The entries provide background on each work’s origin, explaining, for example, how a statue of the medieval Polish king Jagiello came to be in New York alongside more predictable allegorical and American patriotic figures. A brief history of the subject is also provided, including enough lively anecdotes and obscure facts to entice all readers. The appendices include a formulaic - though potentially instructive - guide for viewing sculpture, a list of the works in chronological order, and brief biographies of the artists. … A useful tool to those seeking concise yet wide-ranging information on Manhattan’s many historical public works.
What they call "formulaic" I call "systematic." When you're learning to do a new task, the proper structure is essential. After you've got the basics down you can improvise. Think of cooking, or swimming, or even learning to read. That point aside, though, I'm particularly pleased with this review because I wouldn't have expected Sculpture to be interested in a book on 19th-c. representational sculpture that discusses Ayn Rand's esthetics. Look at the image on the current cover and you'll see why. NOTE: Periodicals don't always send the publisher or author a copy of a review, so if you see a review or mention of OMOM, please let me know (

Glory of Commerce: OMOM Essay 26

A photo of Hermes being carved (ca. 1914) shows a worker lying full-length along Hermes' forearm, which gave me for the first time a sense of how enormous this this sculpture atop Grand Central Terminal's fa├žade is. Another surprise was that the sculptor originally planned to have mirror images of Hercules flanking Hermes. Had he carried that plan through, there would have been no complex symbolism showing business as a combination of physical and mental effort. See "About the Sculpture" in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan.

"About the Subject" describes the remarkable engineering and execution of Grand Central Terminal. Over the years required to demolish the Depot and construct the Terminal on the same site, trains continued to move on regular schedules.

The Forgotten Delights calendar text for Glory of Commerce is one of my favorite poems, "The Ships That Won't Go Down."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Cornelius Vanderbilt: OMOM Essay 25

Vanderbilt has been so widely maligned that even I (who am very favorably disposed to businessmen) expected to dislike him. The biggest surprise in researching him was that his New York Times obituary (1877, excerpted in the Sidebar of Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan) was largely positive. Vanderbilt's productive career is the focus of "About the Subject." It's an abridged version of what appears in Forgotten Delights: The Producers. On the exigencies of pages and pricing, see my blog entry of 1/2/07 on Cooper, OMOM Essay 10.

"About the Sculpture" discusses the importance of setting. Vanderbilt was not intended to be seen against the vast, dark expanse of Grand Central Terminal's windows.

Nearly all my photos of Vanderbilt are taken from the same angle. If you visit the sculpture you’ll see why: shooting from any other angle would involve dodging high-speed traffic (mostly terrifying New York taxis) on the Park Avenue Viaduct.

It took quite some time to find an appropriate quote to juxtapose with Vanderbilt on the Forgotten Delights calendar, but J.B. Say’s description of an entrepreneur (from his 1803 Treatise on Political Economy) is perfect.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

William Earl Dodge: OMOM Essay 24

In "About the Sculpture" I consider what details make this figure of a businessman so different from those of Rea and Vanderbilt (Essays 20 and 25). I also note that all the portrait sculptures erected in the 19th c. were meant to remind viewers of people worthy of emulation. More on this under Duffy (Essay 27).

My favorite story about Dodge (d. 1883), which I didn't manage to fit into either Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan or Forgotten Delights: The Producers, is his dialogue with President-Elect Lincoln in February 1861. As Burrows and Wallace describe it in Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (p. 867):

William E. Dodge, industrialist and financier, explained that New Yorkers were nervous about the position he would take toward the South in his forthcoming inaugural and wanted to know "whether the grass shall grow in the streets of our commercial cities." Lincoln responded pleasantly that "if it depends upon me, the grass will not grow anywhere except in the fields and meadows." But when Dodge pressed him, asking if this meant he would yield to the just demands of the South, Lincoln replied grimly that the Constitution must be "respected, obeyed, enforced, and defended, let the grass grow where it may."

It proved surprisingly difficult to gather biographical information about Dodge. Although he co-founded Phelps Dodge, today one of the world’s leading mining companies, Dodge isn't in the American National Biography or the Encyclopedia of New York City. I ended up scrounging for information in 19th-c. biographical dictionaries at the New-York Historical Society. More details on my research for Dodge are included in Forgotten Delights: The Producers. (This is the sixth of ten sculptures covered in both OMOM and FDP.)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Gertrude Stein: OMOM Essay 23

I had a vague dislike of Gertrude Stein until I researched her for this essay. Now my dislike is intense. Read her rant on the comma (the Sidebar to this essay) and you'll see why. "About the Sculpture" compares this work to Picasso's famous 1906 portrait in the Metropolitan Museum. For copyright reasons I can’t include a photo of Davidson’s Stein in this blog: I purchased permission to use one in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan, but not on the web. You can, however, see the piece in progress in Man Ray’s photo of Davidson sculpting Stein. For "About the Subject" I found a bewildered comment by Davidson and a laugh-aloud New York Times subhead for Stein's obituary (1946). Another laugh-aloud moment ended up on the cutting-room floor of OMOM. Stein wrote of Oakland, California, where she spent part of her childhood: "What was the use of my having come from Oakland it was not natural to have come from there yes write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there." Since the 1980s or 1990s, Oakland City Center has displayed an abstract work by Roslyn Mazzilli entitled, simply, There. So now there is a There there.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

William Cullen Bryant Memorial: OMOM Essay 22

Until I started researching this sculpture I hadn't read anything by Bryant (d. 1878) since high school, and the only work I remembered was "Thanatopsis," a singularly depressing and long-winded poem. Although "Thanatopsis" brought Bryant fame, I find works such as "My Autumn Walk" much more appealing. (It’s excerpted in the Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan Sidebar; see the Forgotten Delights site for the full poem.) "About the Subject" discusses the rise and fall of Bryant's reputation as a poet and his influence on New York politics and literary taste during the fifty years he served as editor of the New York Post.

In "About the Sculpture" I compare Bryant to Cooper (Essay 10) and consider the City Beautiful movement of the late 19th c., which promoted art as a didactic tool for New York's illiterate masses.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bell Ringers's Monument (James Gordon Bennett Memorial): OMOM Essay 21

Every source I’ve read mentions the sensationalism of the New York Herald and the New York Tribune in the 19th c., but few cite concrete examples. I decided to see how one major event was covered by each of the New York newspapers of the time, and after some exploratory research settled on Wall Street's first Black Friday, 9/24/1869. The fascinating variety of headlines in Bennett's Herald, Greeley's Tribune, Hamilton and Bryant's New York Post, and the New York Times is the focus of "About the Subject."

In "About the Sculpture" I discuss how the complex composition of this piece focuses attention on Athena. I enjoyed working in a reference to the owl fetish of New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett, Jr., who planned to construct for fellow Manhattanites a 125-foot tall owl with an observation deck behind its eye sockets. When Athena adorned the Herald Building's roof, she was flanked by numerous owls whose eyes blinked green throughout the night. Some of them are now scattered near the Bell Ringers' Monument in the small park east of Macy's Herald Square. (See photo.)

Primary sources sometimes reveal that contemporaries disparaged what we now accept as beautiful. Bennett's new headquarters for the Herald, a two-story Renaissance-style palazzo at Herald Square, was lauded by Harper's Weekly in 1893 as a relief from other buildings going up at the time, which it condemned as of "skyscraping ugliness." (More of this article appears in the Sidebar of Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan.) In 1890, New York’s tallest structure was the 309-foot World Building, all of 20 or so stories high.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Samuel Rea: OMOM Essay 20

"About the Subject" in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan focuses on the rise and fall of Pennsylvania Station. In the first decade of the 20th c. Rea supervised Penn Station's design and construction; a model of it stands at his side in this sculpture. (See photo.) Its demolition by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the early 1960s led to the creation of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, one of New York’s more intrusive restrictions on private property rights. Why a major corporation would wantonly destroy such an architectural gem had always puzzled me. I was indignant (but not tremendously surprised) to learn that we ought to be blaming the demolition on the government rather than the PRR.

"About the Sculpture" compares this sculpture of Rea to a description of him in the New York Times, and tells of the sculpture's original setting in Pennsylvania Station.

The version of the Rea essay that appeared in Forgotten Delights: The Producers is available as a sample essay on the Forgotten Delights site.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Farragut Monument: OMOM Essay 19

"About the Sculpture" discusses why Farragut was a turning point in American sculpture: which details of pose, costume and pedestal made it drastically different from earlier works such as Brown's Lincoln (Essay 15). I vividly remember my delight at noticing how the lines of the pedestal and the uniform lead the viewer's gaze inexorably from the broad base to Farragut's head. (The photo shows the left side of the base, with the allegorical figure of Loyalty.) In a Saint Gaudens work, nothing is accidental.

In "About the Sculpture" I focused on the 1864 Battle of Mobile Bay, partly because it's where soon-to-be-Admiral Farragut bellowed "Full speed ahead, and damn the torpedoes!", and partly because the battle involved the use of ironclads by both Union and Confederacy. Surprisingly, Farragut preferred wooden ships to ironclads. After researching Ericsson (Essay 2 of Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan), I'd assumed that the advantages of ironclads were overwhelming and indisputable.

The Forgotten Delights calendar has a close-up of Farragut's head and torso plus several intransigent quotes.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Roscoe Conkling: OMOM Essay 18

As opposed to Booth (Essay 17), my problem with prominent New York politician Conkling wasn't lack of reaction but indecision. A contemporary said, "He stood for independence, for courage, and above all for absolute integrity." A later biographer denounced him as "one of the harshest, strictest, most narrow-minded of all political bosses. Possibly like Pooh Bah he was born sneering." Eventually I made "About the Sculpture" a discussion of how one's knowledge affects one's interpretation of and reaction to art. Thus it's a sequel and elaboration of the discussion of emotional reactions to sculpture that began in Essay 17 of Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan.

I spent considerable time searching for an objective evaluation of Conkling, but with a deadline impending, finally focused "About the Subject" on the primary sources one would have to research in order pass judgment on Conkling's character and career.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Edwin Booth as Hamlet: OMOM Essay 17

Booth caused me even more problems than Stuyvesant (Essay 16). I went through at least two drafts of Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan without having any focus for "About the Sculpture" or "About the Subject." Again I solved the problem by asking what made me not want to think about this sculpture. This time rooting about in my subconscious turned up the fact that I find the plot and characters of Hamlet depressing and exasperating; and I disliked actor Edwin Booth (d. 1893) because Hamlet was his preferred role.

Since many people do like Hamlet, though, I decided it was time for an "About the Sculpture" on why people can react to a work of art in such violently different ways. Emotional reactions to works of art are also discussed briefly in my article "Getting More Enjoyment from Art You Love," The Objective Standard 1:2 (Summer 2006).

While researching Booth I learned, to my amazement, that from the 17th to 19th centuries it was common for Shakespeare to be performed in "modernized" versions. Many were the work of Colley Cibber (d. 1757), one of Britain's less distinguished poets laureate. The Sidebar juxtaposes substantial passages from Cibber and Shakespeare. "About the Subject" acknowledges Booth's role in bringing Shakespeare's own words back on stage.

And then there was the photo. Gramercy Park has been closed to the public since its creation in 1831: only residents of surrounding buildings have keys to the gates in the high iron fence. Booth stands at the center of the park, half a city block from the nearest public sidewalk. In 2005 I owned a camera with a 3x optical zoom, inadequate for a good photo at that distance. It took dozens of relentlessly polite and patient emails and phone calls to find someone who would allow me in, under escort, to photograph Booth.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Peter Stuyvesant: OMOM Essay 16

After two drafts of Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan I still had no "About the Sculpture" section for this essay. Finally I asked myself not "What should I write?" but "Why is it so difficult for me to write about this sculpture?" As often happens, asking the right question was more than half the battle. I realized that the style of the sculpture, specifically the texture, bores me so much that I'd prefer to look at almost any sculpture in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan rather than this one. In the photo you can see that the sculptor has used the same mushy texture for Stuyvesant's face, hair and jacket. Historically the man to blame for this is the French sculptor Rodin, whom I discuss in Essay 50 (Jefferson).

Stuyvesant as governor-general of New Netherlands from 1647 to 1664 was anything but boring - see Washington Irving's Knickerbocker's History of New York (excerpts on the Forgotten Delights site), or, more seriously, Shorto's well-written Island at the Center of the World. As a variation on the usual third-person narrative, I tried to capture the immediacy of Stuyvesant's situation in 1664 by writing "About the Subject" in the second person: "Imagine you're …" This technique could get old quickly - I only did it once.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Abraham Lincoln: OMOM Essay 15

"About the Sculpture" discusses why Saint Gaudens's Standing Lincoln in Chicago is superior as a work of art to Henry Kirke Brown's Lincoln in Union Square. I'm particularly happy to have been given permission to print a photo of the Saint Gaudens Lincoln taken by David Finn, who I've decided (after years of compulsively browsing art books) is my favorite sculpture photographer. Meeting Mr. Finn was one of the few joys of the two long years I spent seeking a publisher interested in a book on outdoor sculpture in New York.
I had seen occasional references to President Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, but hadn't learned enough to decide whether it was a justified wartime measure or a breach of civil liberties. While researching Lincoln for Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan I investigated the habeas corpus issue further, and ended up writing "About the Subject" on one specific case of it in 1863: Lincoln's treatment of Clement Vallandigham, a Northern politician who was a very vocal Confederate sympathizer. The Vallandigham case was one of the inspirations for a famous short story you may recall from your high-school days: Edward Everett Hale's "The Man Without a Country."

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Marquis de Lafayette: OMOM Essay 14

When I looked at the sculptures in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan in historical order, the difference between this sculpture of Lafayette and those of his contemporaries Washington, Hamilton and Jefferson (Essays 6, 12, 13, 43, 50, 53) was striking. In "About the Sculpture" I point out the details that convey Lafayette's aristocratic elegance.

I noticed the peculiar shape beneath Lafayette's feet only after dozens of visits and several drafts of the essay. Rather than reworking the essay to include it, I use it to challenge the reader to begin drawing his own conclusions about details of the sculpture. I am anxious to have the reader start such observation and inference early on, because I want him to finish Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan confident that he can understand art on his own, without the intervention of an art critic or art historian. Appendix A, "How to Read a Sculpture," is a summary guide to the process.

"About the Subject" focuses on the philosophical differences between the American and French Revolutions, and Lafayette's role in both.

On the Forgotten Delights site I discuss Lafayette's non-invasion of Canada in 1778. The Forgotten Delights calendar has a close-up of Lafayette and his own long description of his feelings for the United States, dating from his visit here in 1824.

Friday, January 5, 2007

George Washington at Union Square: OMOM Essay 13

I've discussed the Washington at Union Square at length in "Getting More Enjoyment from Art You Love," The Objective Standard 1:2 (Summer 2006). In Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan, I focus on identifying the theme (a process I first mentioned in Essay 5, Charging Bull), and again address the question of what an artist achieves by "quoting" other sculptures. In this case, the sculptor quoted an equestrian portrait of Emperor Marcus Aurelius that has stood in Rome for millennia - largely because medieval Christians assumed it represented Constantine, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity (A.D. 312).

"About the Subject" describes Washington's ceremonial return to New York in 1783, after seven years of British occupation. For over a century that event was celebrated every November 25 as "Evacuation Day." The New-York Historical Society's website has an 1883 illustration of the flagstaff incident referred to in this essay.

Most photos of this Washington are taken from the east side. In the photo above, you can see why: if you're close enough on the west side to take a photo without a telephoto lens, Washington's arm blocks his face. If I backed off 10-20 yards, I could probably get a decent photo of that side using my new 12x optical lens and a tripod. For more on the problems of photographing sculpture, see my "Completely Unprofessional Notes on Taking Photos of Outdoor Sculpture" on

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Washington Arch: OMOM Essay 12

A good artist only incorporates into a sculpture those details he believes essential to convey his message. As a viewer I enjoy the challenge of trying conscientiously to figure out what each detail means. "About the sculpture" for the Washington Arch involved sorting out eight allegorical figures and four coats of arms. Together these allow the Arch to make a broader statement about Washington than could a single portrait sculpture - even as attractive a sculpture as Ward’s Washington at Wall St.

In the course of my research on the Arch I brushed up on my Latin to ponder Washington's motto, "Exitus acta probat," which appears twice on the Arch and seemed incongruous for him. (The usual translation is "The end justifies the means.") I also puzzled over the object held by Athena/Wisdom - see photo. Unable to identify it at first, second or third sight, I looked up early accounts of the Washington Arch to see if an enterprising New York Times reporter had interviewed the sculptor. No luck there, either. This is one of the few cases in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan when I grudgingly admitted defeat. If you can figure out what that object is, please do let me know.

"About the Subject" focuses on Washington's participation in the Constitutional Convention, including the source and context of the inscription on the south side of the Arch: "Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God.” Fans of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged will recognize it as the oblique reference from the discussion of Directive 10-289:

"Whatever type of men we're counting on and planning for," said Dr. Ferris, "there's a certain old-fashioned quotation which we may safely forget: the one about counting on the wise and the honest. We don't have to consider them. They're out of date." ("Miracle Metal" chapter, p. 501 pb)

The Forgotten Delights calendar (Dec. 2006) has a close-up of Washington as commander in chief and a stirring quote from Patrick Henry on the appropriate time to fight for one's values.\
Added 1/9/07: Thanks to Quent Cordair of Quent Cordair Fine Art, who suggested that Athena might be holding an old-fashioned oil lamp. He noted, “Athena/Wisdom lighting the way through the darkness of difficulties and uncertainty would make some sense thematically too.” It does look like an oil lamp, and the idea of Athena shedding light does make sense. True, I’ve never seen Athena with an oil lamp (and as a trained classical scholar I’ve seen hundreds of Ancient Greek images of Athena), but this Athena is early 20th c., and might not abide by the rules of ancient iconography.

Thanks also to Harry Mullin, who discovered that the New-York Historical Society has a treasure trove of documents on the Washington Arch. I’d love to go through them, but at the moment I'm too pressed for time.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Alexander Lyman Holley: OMOM Essay 11

In the "About the Sculpture" section of this essay in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan I return to the related issues of selectivity and the purpose of art.

"About the Subject" focuses on how Holley almost single-handedly introduced Bessemer steel to the United States, and then kept those who operated the steel plants up to date on the latest improvements in the process. Before I researched Holley, I had not considered that neither the skyscrapers of Manhattan nor the expansion of the railroads across the U.S. would have been possible without mass-produced steel. Forgotten Delights: The Producers includes details on the labor- and time-intensive steel-making process before Holley's time.

The Forgotten Delights calendar has a profile photo of Holley next to Longfellow’s “Success” - another poem about triumph after long effort that is an inspiration as we begin the New Year. (See also "Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth" in my 12/31/06 post.)

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Peter Cooper: OMOM Essay 10

Cooper's dignified seated figure recalls many earlier works, including Michelangelo's Moses and medieval portraits of kings. In "About the Sculpture" I discuss the effect of "quoting" earlier sculptures. In "About the Subject," I focus on Cooper's career as a businessman (especially his involvement in railroads) and his founding of the Cooper Union. It was delightful to learn that Saint Gaudens, one of America's best sculptors and the creator of Cooper, was an early graduate of the Cooper Union.

This is the third of ten sculptures from Forgotten Delights: The Producers that appears in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan. Again I abridged the version in OMOM for the sake of space. (The book had to be under a certain number of pages in order to be priced at under $20. Paperback books priced over $20 are more difficult to sell.)

NOTE: You can receive automatic updates of this blog by clicking the link at the bottom of this page, "Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)." Once you've done that, if you have Internet Explorer 7 you click on the yellow star (Favorites) at the far left of the toolbar, then on the "Feeds" tab, then on "Forgotten Delights."

Monday, January 1, 2007

Fiorello La Guardia: OMOM Essay 9

My most surprising discovery about La Guardia was that he was once represented as a balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. I like the energy of Estern's sculpture, even though I'm vehemently opposed to most of what La Guardia did during his 1933-1945 tenure as mayor of New York (summarized in "About the Subject").

When I'd edited this essay for Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan several times, I suddenly noticed how much La Guardia's right pant leg contributes to the sense that he's striding briskly along. I used this to make the point in "About the Sculpture" that you never see everything about a sculpture on first look, or (put positively) that a good sculpture is worth many visits and intense study. I gave myself the task of noticing something new the next 5-6 times I passed one particular sculpture, and sure enough, with that "standing order" in mind I was able greatly to increase my powers of observation.

Since abstract sculptures have predominated in New York for decades, it pleases me that La Guardia is relatively recent (dedicated in 1994), and that its creator, Neil Estern, is still alive and well. Estern's other works in New York are listed in Appendix C of Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan ("Brief Biographies of Artists").