Nishi is known for fashioning a number of site-specific, domestic-influenced art installations around the world. In 2002, he placed a one-room apartment over the roof of a 14th-century Swiss cathedral, incorporating a bronze angel-shaped weather vane in the process. The same year he created a temporary functioning hotel around a statue of Queen Victoria as part of the Liverpool Biennial. With Discovering Columbus, Nishi offers a unique, whimsical vision of America and its global influence.
The project, which opened September 20th and runs through November 18th, is being put on by the Public Art Fund, an inspired New York art institution whose mission, according to their website,
is to mount "ambitious free exhibitions of international scope and impact that offer the public powerful experiences with art and the urban environment." The Public Art Fund unveiled
artist Rob Pruitt's shiny silver statue of artist Andy Warhol in Union Square in March 2011, which had an extended run (up to last month, in fact), and they also sponsor several public art talks
(held at The New School) throughout the year. Discovering Columbus is perhaps one of the Fund's most ambitious exhibits, inviting discovery, contemplation, and wonder.
The exhibit only allows 170 visitors at once, for thirty minutes at a time, though the line outside the exhibit moves quickly. There's also an elevator available, and visitors have to sign a release prior to getting tickets.
The installation has not been without its share of controversy. John Mancini, Executive Director of The Italic Institute
, told the New York Post in August
, “I think it’s poor art. It’s in bad taste... I don’t know who is paying for it or why they would pay for it. If it’s aimed at Columbus Day, it’s quite disrespectful.”
Nishi's work, however, is anything but disrespectful; it's a thoughtful endeavor on the nature of America as a political, social, and especially cultural force in the world. Using his own position as an outsider, growing up in Japan and heavily influenced by American pop culture, Nishi utilizes a number of symbols old and new to make a larger point about the pervasive effect of Americana within both its own borders and outside of them, making some interesting points about the nature of national identity and perspective. In addition to being a thought-provoking piece of fantastic public artwork (and a great workout, what with the six-storey climb), it's also a great opportunity to experience a statue most wouldn't get to see at such close quarters John Calvelli, secretary of the National Italian American Foundation, told the Post
that Discovering Columbus is "a once-in-a-lifetime experience... you can see Columbus up close!”
The space itself is spacious and beautifully designed; at 800 square feet with a 16-foot ceilings, it's been outfitted with area rugs, sofas, armchairs, a hardwood floor, and a 55-inch Samsung television along one wall, most of which has been provided by Bloomingdale's. There are also four huge windows offering three stunning views. Visitors lounge comfortably, reading, chatting, watching television. It would all be incredibly normal, but for the 13-foot marble statue dominating the middle of the room.
It's precisely this dislocation that powers Discovering Columbus. Visitors are "discovering" the statue in a way few have before (except, as Roberta Smith noted in the New York Times
, for birds and art restorers). Nishi offers a sly, fascinating take on the "dream" of America, and what it means in historical and futuristic contexts. Along with the comfy accoutrements and the TV broadcasting CNN (whose building, ironically or not, is literally across the street), are a myriad of books on various aspects of Americana: sports, music, media. Then there's the wallpaper. Nishi has fashioned a room that invites its own exploration, offering a fascinating, outsider's viewpoint of America and its potency in terms of culture, politics, history, history, and even technology.
This paradox is beautifully, simply reflected in the spectacular views that Discovering Columbus affords. Situated where Broadway, Eighth Avenue, Central Park South, and Central Park West all intersect in a spidery contusion of belching gas and sharp honking, Discovering Columbus affords one the opportunity to enjoy some prime NYC real estate, high above the clamor.
Such tension adds a nice dimension to what could be considered a pleasant, fun diversion - but Public Art Fund, while offering fun, interactive art for everyone, has also hit upon a powerful combination with NIshi's work. By entering into this "living room," we are, in effect, a part of its living history, our stories and histories intertwined with that of Columbus in creating an ever-unfolding vision of America.