Most major cities have them, those figures of triumph and history perched high up on columns above traffic circles that are labeled with their names. But aside from the names, what can we actually know of this statues of men (as they are almost always men) several stories up from our eye levels? Well, currently if you’re in NYC you can go right up to the stone Christopher Columbus who is perched above the busy Columbus Circle on the southwest corner of Central Park. Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi’s installation “Discovering Columbus” has surrounded the 13-foot-tall Columbus with a living room supported by scaffolding, where you can lounge on a couch and watch CNN while getting a close look at this usually distant sculpture.
This week, me and my friend Hannah paid Columbus a visit. You have to first climb up 75 feet of stairs surrounding the granite column that supports the monument by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo. The giant Columbus rising up from an ordinary-looking coffee table and taking up a good portion of the room is immediately amusing, and most people seemed inclined to hang around and spend some time in the presence of the comically oversize marble colossus.
It’s hard to tell from my photos how high up we are, so here is a 1907 shot of Columbus Circle, not too long after the statue and its column were erected in 1892 to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. You can see some street cars drive by its base, and a lot of buildings that have since disappeared. And maybe a ghost in the lower left corner??? One can only guess.
Since Columbus has been standing proud with one hand on hip for over a hundred years, he’s experienced some weathering and decay, and the art installation doubles as a preservation effort. Yet despite the years, there were still surprising details of the statue, like the buckles of his shoes and wrinkles of his clothes, things that would be impossible to discern from below.
I should mention that the wallpaper in the room was also hilarious, with a crazy mix of Americana, from Devil’s Tower to Michael Jackson to McDonald’s.
The view from the platform was also amazing, looking to the park and up along Broadway. I love these views that you never expect to have, and here was a view that was once that of the stone Columbus alone. Now we can join him in his stoic gaze at the tumult of the city that has risen up to his level in the decades of his watch from on high.
If you’re in NYC, you have until December 2 to visit him!