Art Out in the Open on the Upper West Side
The Upper West Side has its share of museums—the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Arts and Design, the American Folk Art Museum, the New York Historical Society—but you do not have to step inside to see world-class art. The neighborhood has a wealth of artworks out in the open, from classic monuments to cutting-edge contemporary works. Below are just a few highlights.
Serving as a gateway to the neighborhood is a 40-foot-high steel globe that stands just north of Columbus Circle. The circle itself is a work of art, with its towering Columbus Column at the center, topped by a 14-foot statue of Christopher Columbus by Gaetano Russo erected in 1892. An homage to the World’s Fair Unisphere in Queens, the globe is a more recent addition, created by Kim Brandell in 1996 to sit in front of the Trump International Hotel and Tower at One Central Park West. Not surprisingly, Donald Trump wanted his name engraved prominently on the sculpture. The City Planning Department would not allow it, however, on the grounds that doing so would make the work a commercial sign rather than an ornamental sculpture and that therefore it would not be allowed to obstruct views of the public plaza.
A petite plaza behind the Trump building, at West 61st Street, is home to another sculpture. David Hostetler created “The Duo,” a 13-foot-high bronze work, in 1997 but it was not installed until 2006. It honors Dan Galbreath, a Hostetler collector and Trump’s partner in converting Trump International Hotel from an office building.
Like Columbus Circle, the Lincoln Center campus, between 62nd and 66th Streets and Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, qualifies as an example of urban art. The main plaza’s Revson Fountain, designed by Philip Johnson Associates and boasting jets of water that can jump up to 60 feet high, is recognizable around the world, thanks in large part to its presence in movies as diverse as “The Producers” (the original version), “Manhattan,” and “Ghostbusters.” North of the fountain, between David Geffen Hall and Lincoln Center Theater, “Reclining Figure” by Henry Moore sits in a reflecting pool. Installed in September 1965, the two-piece, six-ton bronze sculpture was Moore’s largest work at that time.
Also on the campus, near the Vivian Beaumont Theater, is another sculpture: “Le Guichet” by Alexander Calder. “Guichet” is French for “ticket counter,” and the large holes of the angular steel work are meant to evoke a ticket window.
Famed architect Philip Johnson designed “TimeSculpture,” across the street from the Revson Fountain, to complement Lincoln Center. Located in the triangular Dante Park between Broadway and Columbus Avenue at West 63rd Street, the irregular planes and angles of the bronze structure playfully tease the more classical formation of the Lincoln Center campus. Just as important, the four clocks embedded within the sculpture’s three faces allow pedestrians, bus riders, and auto passengers alike to see the time—handy for those heading to a performance.
“TimeSculpture” was added to the park in 1999. The plaza’s other sculpture, a bronze depiction of the poet Dante Alighieri, was dedicated in 1921, marking the 600th anniversary of his death. Italian sculptor Ettore Ximenes had previously created the monument to Giovanni da Verrazzano that stands in the Battery downtown.
Multiple statues, fountains, and memorials are sprinkled among the pathways of Riverside Park, which as its name indicates runs alongside the Hudson River north from 72nd Street. Among the more notable, just off 72nd Street and Riverside Drive, is a bronze monument to humanitarian and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Sculpted by Penelope Jencks, it was dedicated in 1996.
Also off Riverside Drive, at 89th Street, is the majestic Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. Erected in 1902 and modeled after the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates near the Acropolis in Athens, this marble structure pays tribute to those who fought for the Union in the Civil War. Another tribute to fallen heroes, the Fireman’s Memorial, is on Riverside Drive at 100th Street. Steps lead up to the marble monument, on the front of which is a bronze bas-relief of horses pulling a fire engine. Flanking the monument are figural sculptures by Attilio Piccirilli symbolizing Duty and Sacrifice.
Between these monuments, within Riverside Park’s 91st Street Playground, is a much more whimsical work: the Hippopotamus Fountain. Created by Robert J. Cassilly Jr. and installed in 1993, it consists of 14 fiberglass hippos, some walking, some seemingly half-submerged in the ground. Two of the hippos are spray fountains, making this interactive artwork especially popular on hot summer days.
On the opposite side of Riverside Drive, outside the New York Buddhist Church between 105th and 106th Streets, stands a 15-foot-high statue of Shinran Shonin, a monk who in the early 13th century founded what became known as the Shin branch of Buddhism. The statue originally stood in Hiroshima, Japan; the crimson band near the bottom is a burn from the atomic bomb dropped on the city in 1945. Although the bomb destroyed nearly all of Hiroshima’s structures, the statue survived. In 1955, Japanese industrialist Seiichi Hirose donated the statue as a symbol of piece.
No tour of public art in the Upper West Side would be complete without mentioning “Hammer Boy” by graffiti artist Banksy. The black silhouette of a shorts-clad boy wielding a mallet appeared on the 79th Street side of a building on the corner of Broadway in October 2013. Delighted rather than dismayed by the guerrilla artwork, the building’s owners—Saul and Stanley Zabar, who also own the namesake iconic deli—placed protective glass over the graffito.