At 3:45 p.m. on Monday, four graduate students from New York University carried building materials—$97.56 worth of PVC pipe, plastic twist ties, cement, metal, and screws—to Astor Place, and erected a cube to replace the old one carted away last week without notice for restoration.
The artists—Mohit SantRam, Emily Conrad, Jeffrey Galusha, and Jeff Gray—are in the school’s Interactive Telecommunications masters program. They usually work in digital abstractions and silicon, but for their version of Alamo, as the Tony Rosenthal-created cube is formally known, they went for the basics. “It’s stripped down to the elements. The negative space exemplifies what’s missing,” said SantRam.
People in the neighborhood were surprised last Tuesday to find the cube, which stood in the traffic island since 1967, had been removed. The city Parks Department later explained that the spinnable art needed emergency repair and would be returned in a few weeks.
At some point afterward, a barricade appeared bearing a small white laminated sign: “REMEMBER THE ALAMO! Tony Rosenthal’s black painted-steel sculpture, Alamo (1967), popularly known as ‘The Cube,’ has been temporarily removed for structural repairs. If you would like to help sponsor the perpetual care of this beloved public artwork, please contact Parks’ office of Art & Antiquities at (212) 360-3410.”
The students planned to keep watch over their five-foot cube—three feet smaller than the original—but it was almost as if the sign were guarding it, too, however inadvertently.
“The sign is a double-edged sword,” SantRam said. “Since it’s posted on a barricade, a lot of passersby think that our piece is an official statement from the Parks Department, and thus the barricade exists for its protection. But, actually, the sign seems to say that the city is taking away public art and at the same time sort of asking the public to foot the bill for its return. Until we came, their sign simply stood in the absence of Alamo.
“The city is responsible for this piece of public art, and so they should also be responsible for not only its upkeep, but for informing the public, in a timely manner, of what’s going on,” he added. “The community noticed the cube’s absence, and only then did the Parks Department come out and say what was going on. People’s reactions are a testament to how important the art is to the public, so the fact that they put up a DeskJet printout almost a week later is absurd.”
As of 6 p.m. Monday, the students’ cube was still standing. Some teenagers had tried to spin it, but the plastic ties ensure that this statement will be stationary. “It’s sad that the only time we bring up the lack of public art is when what we have is taken away. So the void that the cube’s absence provided is important,” said Galusha.