Park Avenue Sculpture Rises from the Rust
A historic piece of art awaits a badly-needed restoration to be returned to its spot on the iconic avenue
A beloved and valuable Upper East Side public artwork by renowned sculptor Louise Nevelson has had a near-death experience. The sculpture, entitled Night Presence lV, located at 92nd Street and Park Avenue, suffered years of neglect and physical decay before a consortium of concerned neighbors and city officials stepped in to fund its repair and preservation. The public-private partnership has not only salvaged an important mid-century artwork, it has cast light on the fate of an array of older New York public artworks in urgent need of attention.
"This project has given us greater insight into the complex preservation needs of our contemporary artworks" throughout the city, said Jonathan Kuhn, Director of Arts and Antiquities for the NYC Parks Department.
In a city of sometimes costly public art, Louise Nevelson's Night Presence lV was both a gift and something of a love letter. Nevelson adored New York City. Raised in Brooklyn and then Maine, she moved back to the city in the 1930s. Much of her important art education was here, at the Art Students League and the studios of various mentors. She became an iconic figure in the 1950s and 60s social and art scene - exotic, famous and a fierce New Yorker. In 1972, in a gesture of love for her adopted city and to commemorate fifty years of working here, Nevelson gifted a 22-foot high by 13-foot deep sculpture to New York City. Night Presence lV was fabricated out of Cor-ten steel, and stood for over thirty years on the divider at Park Avenue and 92nd Street. Rusting gracefully, as Cor-ten is supposed to do, the work became a landmark of the Upper East Side.
The Parks Department's Kuhn recounts that the sculpture was inspected almost every year, as are dozens of public art works. From 2003 to 2008 the department noticed substantial changes in the steel. The sculpture was found to be suffering from a dangerous degree of deterioration. Years of weather and water had caused parts of the sculpture to dissolve into rust, and entire sections of the monumental piece were in danger of falling off. Kuhn reports that much of the public sculpture from the 1970s, made fro Cor-ten steel has suffered from weather damage, but the Nevelson's was in particularly bad condition. The Citywide Monuments Conservation Program (CMCP), an award-winning public/private initiative of NYC Parks and Recreation, prepared a restoration plan and presented it to the Public Design Commission. They also began to fundraise to support the projected cost of the project. After careful consideration an additional $140,000 to the original budget was deemed necessary for the restoration. Through the generosity of New Yorkers, many of whom live in the immediate neighborhood, the partnership has to date raised about $120,000 of private donations.
Though shy of the targeted funding goal, the sculpture was dismantled in 2011 and taken to a warehouse for substantial restoration and retrofitting. In consultation with Lippincott Steel (the original manufacturer) and a score of conservation and museum experts the sculpture is being re-welded and reinforced. Stainless steel infrastructure is being added, as well as a drainage system to allow the sculpture to shed the water, rather than fill up like a bathtub as in the past. It is a huge and complicated undertaking. In addition to the internal structural changes and remaking of many steel panels, months of both artificial and natural "weathering" will be required in order for the new steel to take on the patina of the old.
Kuhn hopes fervently that they can finish raising the approximately $25,000 required to finish the project and to bring Night Presence lV back home on the Upper East Side by late spring of this year. It will be a joyful return of a stunning New York neighbor.
For more information on CMCP and their programs, including the status of the Nevelson restoration, please visit their website- http://www.nycgovparks.org/art-and-antiquities/permanent-art-and-monuments/conservation
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