Columbus Circle, New York City

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“Good Morning! Do you want to know the REAL story of Christopher Columbus?” said an overexcited brunette as she handed me a flyer that looked like a handout I give to my students when I want them to have quite reading time. The flyer referred to all of the terrible things (disease, slavery, rape, murder and any other inappropriate actions against Native Americans you can think of) that came with Columbus on his voyage to the New World. As I said “No, thank you,” my mind thought back to the episode of the Sopranos titled “Christopher.” Silvio, Little Paulie, and Ralph take action against the protestors of the Columbus Day Parade without approval from Tony. I couldn’t help but giggle to myself. It’s a good episode. Watch it.

I figured it would be appropriate to visit the controversial “Discovering Columbus” on Columbus Day. The exhibit by Tatzu Nishi, ran from September 20, 2012 to December 2, 2012 at Columbus Circle (the intersection of Eight Avenue, Broadway, Central Park South, and Central Park West.) The 13-foot-tall marble statue, designed by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo, is more then 75 feet in the air atop a granite column that features bronze ships’ prows and anchors that refer to his ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. First unveiled in 1892 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas, can often go unnoticed unless you look up or happen to be in one of the surrounding buildings; Trump Tower or the Time Warner buildings (Time Warner Inc. is a lead sponsor along with Bloomberg).

Tatzu Nishi’s exhibit put Christopher Columbus on a coffee table in the center of a living room; complete with chairs, tables, couches, flat-screen TV, and a bookcase stocked with biographies of President Andrew Jackson (who is unpopular in regards to his treatment of  Native Americans also), President Abraham Lincoln, and Steve Jobs. Pictures of Columbus Circle from “Old New York” are framed and hung on the walls in front of the original wallpaper inspired by American pop culture.

Before visiting the exhibit, I was well aware of the controversy this exhibit had caused. Italian Americans found it to be insulting because the statue would be covered while others thought this was an innovative way to see a piece of important art that is often overlooked.  I had passed this monument plenty of times before, but as I ascended the six flights of stairs, I was excited to see things I had never seen before. This was an opportunity to look at a great NY monument up close. Granted the granite column was surrounded by scaffolding that held the living room up (and possibly a poetic nod to those Columbus supposedly enslaved??) Six visitors at a time could look out the windows, sit in the chairs and couches, or browse the books in the bookcase while having a Christopher Columbus overtake the center of the room. If the point of this exhibit was to appreciate the enormity of the statue, which could also be connected to the influential power Columbus  had on the world, it was achieved, making it difficult for me to understand the Italian American argument.

After spending about twenty minutes in the presence of a force to be reckoned with and being briefly interviewed by a local television station, which never aired my interview, I made my way outside to a view that took my breath away; a view of Eighth Avenue, Broadway, Central Park South, and Central Park South from more than 75 feet in the air. “Well, that was interesting. I don’t understand what the big fuss was about,” said a fabulously dressed older woman. Her, also fabulously dressed, friend nodded in agreement. I chimed in, “this view is impressive though.” The women looked at me in disbelief and asked how I’d never seen the view at this intersection before. They lived in a condo at Central Park South and this was their view everyday.

“Ah,” I said. “Maybe one day, I could be so lucky.”

Dancing Water

More Information on the Christopher Columbus Statue at :

http://www.publicartfund.org/view/exhibitions/5495_discovering_columbus

http://www.nycgovparks.org

http://www.centralparknyc.org

4 thoughts on “Columbus Circle, New York City

  1. Nice piece. I’m not particularly proud of Christopher Columbus as an Italian American, but I guess we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for his poor navigational skills in search of India lol

    1. Thanks! Columbus, like every other historical figure, has high points and low points. It depends on the intent of who is writing the history. I should visit the museum in Berlin dedicated to the greatness of Hitler…

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