The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2022

All Issues
FEB 2022 Issue
The Miraculous The Miraculous: New York

86. The South Bronx

The mayor of New York City borrows a life-size fiberglass sculpture of a shirtless young man with a boombox and a basketball (he holds the ball under his left arm, while his right foot rests on the boombox) to place on the front lawn of his official residence on the occasion of presenting a filmmaker renowned for his depictions of everyday urban life with the keys to the city. Prior to this, a polychrome bronze version of the sculpture draws intense criticism when it is placed, along with two other works by the artist (a young girl on roller skates and a hoodie-wearing youth kneeling next to his pit bull), on a traffic triangle in front of a police precinct building in the South Bronx. Each sculpture is from a life cast of a neighborhood resident but many people in the community would have preferred more uplifting subjects, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X or local high school graduates in their graduation regalia or men dressed in suits on their way to office jobs. In a magazine profile of the artist, a journalist later reports that in making his three bronzes for the 44th Precinct the artist hoped to challenge the art world’s perception of his previous work as “sentimental.” This time, she writes, “he was determined ‘to make art, make a statement,’ something with edge and irony and ‘complications.’ He says now that this was his mistake: he should have been thinking about making people happy.” Five days after the bronzes are installed, the artist, who is very conscious of the fact that he is white while nearly all of his neighbors and subjects are African-American or Hispanic, hires a truck and has the sculptures moved to a contemporary art space in Long Island City. Years later, they are again relocated to a sculpture park in Astoria, where they can still be seen today.

(David Dinkins, Spike Lee, John Ahearn, Jane Kramer)

Contributor

Raphael Rubinstein

Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.

close

The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2022

All Issues