When it was completed in 1981, Boomerang , a sculpture that is cantilevered from the south side of the 32nd floor of the McGraw-Hill building on West 42nd Street, was compared to “a pterodactyl in a Japanese horror movie or perhaps the struts of a stunt plane that will never finish its loop-the-loop.” The only site-specific sculpture to ever find itself affixed to the side of a New York skyscraper, viewers could actually walk out onto the piece-an upward spiraling ladder-and practically hang off the side of the building, peering into the city’s canyons. Playboy sent a pack of naked girls to be photographed on the sculpture. Owen Morrel, the creator of the piece, was interviewed on CNN. At a time when Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc was being derided by the public, Boomerang was so popular that the building was besieged with requests to see it.
Now, however, Boomerang is set to be cut from its moorings and join Tilted Arc in the scrapheap of unwanted public art, according to the building’s owners, Deco Tower Associates L.L.C. In a letter sent to Mr. Morrel on Nov. 19, Val Kaminov, the building’s manager, explained that the sculpture needs about $150,000 worth of repairs, “and the ownership of the building is unwilling to assume such expense,” much less the maintenance of the piece. Besides, the new owners don’t even like it, according to Philip Trost, attorney for Deco Tower Associates.
Mr. Trost said his client fears that the sculpture will come loose from the side of the building and fall to the street below. “It is dangerous,” said Mr. Trost. “We have been told by our experts that unless the repairs are made, we are taking a risk.”
But Mr. Morrel is trying to prevent the piece from being removed and to raise money to pay for the repairs. In an interview in his SoHo loft, he explained that he was in an awkward position. He made a deal with the building’s previous owner, Jeffrey Gural of Newmark & Company Real Estate, in 1981 to install the piece on the building for three years. After that period of time, the agreement expired, and no one bothered to renew it. The piece was essentially abandoned, as was the building, which went into bankruptcy, and therefore ownership transferred to the building’s current owner. Mr. Morrel said he believes that the building owner has an obligation to maintain the artwork; legally, it is theirs to do with what they will.
Mr. Morrel was contacted by the owners a year ago and informed that the defects in the sculpture, which is attached to the building’s superstructure, came to the attention of the building’s management during the course of a $5 million renovation of the facade. He learned of the building’s position with regard to financing the repair of the sculpture. “But,” he said, “I was led to believe that there were people working in the building who were trying to find the money to save it,” he said. “What’s $150,000 in a $5 million renovation?” he asked.
The Raymond Hood-designed building is a designated city landmark and, back in 1981, the building was given a special permit for the sculpture. But, to Mr. Morrel’s dismay, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission never took the further step of designating the sculpture as a part of the building-a step that would have meant that it would stay there in perpetuity. Now he’s under the gun since the Nov. 19 letter states that the building’s owners wish to make plans to remove the sculpture immediately. Mr. Morrel has been attempting to raise the $150,000 himself to save the sculpture. But so far he has not had much luck. Save Outdoor Sculpture, or S.O.S., a division of Heritage Preservation Inc. in Washington, D.C., told him there was not enough time to mount a campaign. S.O.S. also informed Mr. Morrel that by their standards, the work is not technically a public sculpture.
According to Mr. Trost, the building’s owners do not want to shoulder the cost of maintenance of the piece in the future, a cost that he put at $50,000 per year. What’s more, according to Mr. Trost, the partners of Deco Towers Associates are not especially fond of the sculpture. “The artwork takes away from the 1930’s Art Deco architecture,” Mr. Trost said. “The architect would probably turn over in his grave if he saw it. We had no input on whether it would be put on or not. That came before us. In my personal opinion, I think it detracts from the look of the building.”
He added that Mr. Morrel was being given the “opportunity to have it removed at [his own] cost and expense.” According to the artist, he doesn’t want to install it elsewhere, nor could he afford to.
If You Miss the 5:09, Stop to See the Wildflowers
On Dec. 16, as commuters in tan Burberrys were racing for the 5:09 to Bronxville, an art opening was being held on the west mezzanine of Grand Central Terminal. As a Brazilian band was filling the air with salsa, a pair of roast pigs were being sliced into bite-size pieces. Roberto Juarez, the artist who was being feted, was talking to Adele Chatfield-Taylor, the president of the American Academy in Rome. Mr. Juarez and Ms. Chatfield-Taylor got to know each other when Mr. Juarez was one of 24 people to spend the 1996-1997 year as a resident of the academy, which is perched in the hills above the ancient city.
Mr. Juarez took advantage of his time in Rome by completing a commission that he had received from Arts in Transit, a city-owned organization that puts art in public places. It had selected him to create a mural for a new waiting room next to the stationmaster’s office in the train station. Mr. Juarez, who was dressed in a black mod suit that looked like something Austin Powers would wear, guided a group down the stairs to the waiting room. The mural is the first permanent installation to be unveiled as part of the station’s elaborate renovation.
“Grand Central Station is a very busy place,” he explained, standing next to his creation, which depicts the tops of flowers on a scale that Georgia O’Keeffe would have approved of. “This waiting room should be somewhere that is a little more peaceful and sheltering so people can wait comfortably for a train. I painted the tops of flowers and plants so that you feel immersed in the painting, as if you were sitting in a field of wildflowers.”
Ms. Chatfield-Taylor eyed Mr. Juarez appreciatively. “We are so proud of Roberto,” she said. “It is a great demonstration of what can happen if you are a motivated person, and you go to Rome for a year. Look,” she added, pointing to one of the plants, “you can see a little bit of acanthus.”
“They were designed in Rome especially for these walls,” said Mr. Juarez of the flowers. “Grand Central Station was conceived as a cathedral of transportation at a time when American transportation was booming. I saw this room as a cloister in the cathedral.”