In the immortal words of Jo March in Little Women, “Christopher Columbus!”
There he was in all his statuesque glory, standing a dizzying 13 feet tall in the bird’s eye living room conceived, constructed (and decorated) by Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi in the center of Columbus Circle.
Since September 20, visitors have climbed up, up, up six flights of metal stairs to the pink-wallpapered lair where Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo’s 1892 marble rendering of Italy’s most famous sailor stands atop a coffee table littered with copies of The FT and The New York Times. This week it was our turn (admission is free but by reservation), and we made the climb on a drizzly day.
Nishi creates short-term artworks by reimaging, and recontextualizing, public monuments in unexpected ways. In Villa Victoria, a pop-up hotel suite built around a statue of Queen Victoria in Liverpool, guests could actually spend the night.
Discovering Columbus affords visitors 30 minutes in CC’s contemporary living room,
furnished largely by Blooomingdales, along with 20 or 30 photo-snapping strangers. You can plop on a leather sofa, peruse a magazine (Nishi imagines Chris as an avid reader), watch Wolf Blitzer on CC’s 55-inch TV or admire the drop-dead Central Park views through enormous velvet-curtained windows.
What you can’t do is sip a coffee (no food or drink) or push a stroller (not that you’d want to). With piercing eyes and flowing Renaissance garb, Columbus up close is plenty scary for grown-ups, let alone toddlers; he doesn’t look like someone who’d select pink wallpaper patterned with gilded renderings of latter-day American icons like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis. Then again, we can’t imagine Russo ever pictured his heroic subject, created to commemorate the quarto-centennial of the historic voyage, domesticated in a 21st-century living room.
Columbus’s living room perches on a formidable forest of scaffolding, which weathered Hurricane Sandy better than too many of the city’s permanent structures. (When the exhibition closes December 2, the structure will stay in place while conservators work on the statue.)
Where to go for tea or a drink after communing with Columbus? The lounge on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental New York overlooks Discovering Columbus – and Central Park. Sipping a Pomme Royale (apple cider, peach nectar with a cinnamon sugared rim, $9), you can gaze down at the line waiting to get in and be glad you’re not standing in it. At least, that’s what we did.