Sunday, December 30, 2007

An Afternoon in Brooklyn

It was back around 1987 or '88 when I first discovered the sculpture garden in back of the Brooklyn Museum. Unlike the sculpture garden in Manhattan at MoMA, this was a true urban sculpture garden: All the carvings and ironworks were remnants salvaged from long-lost buildings. Surrounding the courtyard of the then little-used rear entrance, dozens and dozens of gargoyles, pediments, columns and busts burst from the ivy-covered ground. There was a storage building crammed with more, and another fenced yard with the overflow.

Here was where you came to see some of the last pieces of Pennsylvania Station, columns that supported the lintels of demolished Fifth Avenue mansions, and decorative stonework that once embellished the exteriors of other notable as well as anonymous New York buildings.

Sadly, the Museum's extensive renovation plans of the last few years have shuffled the sculpture garden's contents to a fenced-off plot in the parking lot. For years now, the stones have been sitting in the weeds, some on rotting wood pallets, others left to absorb moisture and lichen from the ground. Viewing these artifacts is difficult at best; impossible for most.

Conditions have improved, though, since the last time I was here. Last time the Statue of the Liberty warehouse was horizontal on the ground, the horse and rider above gazing forlornly down upon her. She's since been uprighted and repainted, facing the courtyard and the allegorical figure of Night from Penn Station--

--who stands now with her back to the museum wall. A few other pieces are still in the courtyard, though precious few have any provenance or documentation. Too many pieces are off limits in the undergrowth, seen only by the mournful rider, and I wonder whatever became of what seemed to be the hundreds I remember from fifteen years ago.

The storage building and the additional yard are gone too, turned into parking lots and landscaping over the years. The remaining stones sink into the vegetation behind the fences, some pooling with water, most obscured with vines. What now?

This is the plaque at the base of the Liberty statue that opens this post. (Click on it for a larger and more legible version.)

And for the sake of history, above is a photo of the statue that I made in 1985, when it was in its original location eight stories above West 64th Street.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Our lady of the harb--er parking lot--looks a little chunky. Perhaps too many croissants.