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Public Art at the Custom’s House

Updated: Jul 4, 2022

Notes for a documentary film on Daniel Chester French

US Custom’s House

If you ever walk south on Broadway, all the way to the tip of Manhattan, you might find yourself in front of a most hideous sculpture by Arturo Di Modica: The Charging Bull. The brass mammal representing the power financial world (although that might not have been the intent of the artist in the wake of 1987 Black Monday) is an imposing mass weighting 7100 ponds. Some may disagree, but I find the beast unappealing and unapologetically grotesque. Although I must admit that have been greatly influenced in my discontent by the public drawn to the site.

On a cold afternoon when the temperatures range between freezing and Oh my God it’s cold!, tourist of all corners of the world will line up to be photographed, to actually document the fact that they came to see the abhorrent brass-monster in the financial capital of the free world. And they would do that on either end of the minotaur. You see, the animal can either be approached from its head or tail. Some visitors prefer to be portrayed holding on to the magnificent horns while others kneel behind next to the ruminant’s testicles which already shows brighter than the rest. The same happens in Verona with the Juliet’s left breast which, according to Italian tradition will bring good luck to those who dare the touch.

Arturo Di Modica‘s Charging Bull

On the opposite of the Bowling Green, Manhattan’s first public park, stands the US Custom’s House. The building, combining elements of Beaux Arts and City Beautiful planning principles, stands were the exchange of twenty-four dollars for the property of the land give bird the the most successful real-estate investment of all times. The architect Cass Gilbert, of the famed New York firm McKim, Mead and White, was in charge of the design of the Custom’s House which on it’s north façade exhibits outstanding works of art by Daniel Chester French, one for each of the continents represented. These sculptures can be appreciated from multiple angles, and approached in different directions. In all, each sculpture reveals complementary arguments redefining the idea of Africa, Asia, America and Europe in

Asia, by Daniel Chester French

Europe, by Daniel Chester French

The north face of the US Custom’s House and the rear end of the Charging Bull are separated by the gated and minuscule Bowling Green, and although thousands of tourists come to worship the reproductive organs of the bully, almost none can be seen appreciating the works of Daniel Chester French which certainly stand for the same values of mercantile expansionism. The difference, I imagine, is perhaps that the latter are prove to be more refine, infinitely more attractive and eloquent.

Perhaps, what caught my attention today was not Di Modica’s Frankenstein as much as the fact that the my fellow travelers seem to have misplaced the compass that once guided the ideals of public art, or even more worrisome the fact that s single image propelled by advertising and social media can obscure the beauty on the other side of the park.

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