On Wednesday morning, a few dozen Islanders and art lovers sat in front of a podium on the hill that connects Good Shepherd Plaza with the west promenade. On a concrete slab in front of them, hidden beneath a red sheet, stood the Island’s newest work of public art, a sculpture by Long Island City artist Michael Poast.
The Good Shepherd Plaza Sculpture Plinth is the brainchild of Tad Sudol, president of the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association (RIVAA), and is an homage to the Fourth Plinth at London’s Trafalgar Square which features a rolling program of temporary artworks.
Roosevelt Island’s plinth is located on the small square-shaped lawn newly adorned by cement benches and planted vegetation in the southwest corner of Good Shepherd Plaza. Sudol plans to change the sculpture every two years, and will create a competition for future sculptures to display
From left: Council Member Ben Kallos, RIOC President Susan Rosenthal, RIVAA President Tad Sudol, and artist Michael Poast at Wednesday’s unveiling. Photo: RIOC Public Information Office
Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation President Susan Rosenthal served as the master of ceremonies for the unveiling, which was also attended by Council Member Ben Kallos, along with many others who worked for years to see this moment come to fruition.
“It marks a new era for Roosevelt Island, the Island of Art,” RIVAA member Jim Pignetti told the crowd. “It will stimulate, challenge, and entertain our community for years to come, and will draw visitors from afar.” He praised Sudol’s vision and leadership in bringing public artworks to the Island. “Visitors will wind through our community, our landmarks, and stores – and just maybe they’ll spend a shekel or two,” he said, earning a laugh from the audience.
The Plinth’s inaugural sculpture, by Long Island City artist Michael Poast, is called Saecula Saeculorum, latin for “without end.”
“The expressive form is achieved with steel that lends itself to this expansion,” says Poast of his piece. “The jutting lines of sculpture implies infinity.”
He points out that the sculpture will continually evolve as weather and time leave their mark. “The dimensions of rust that you will see adds another dimension to the surface of the piece which will eventually become a deep maroon color... Rust and time are natural patinas that add the time element to this static object that sits there. It is seemingly static but it sits in that moment between.”
Poast has other public art sculptures displayed across New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Ohio.
A Peaceful Place
In her remarks, Rosenthal said that the sculpture plinth was part of a larger plan to renovate the plaza and its surrounding areas, a project spearheaded in 2012 by Vicki Feinmel, the chair of the Church Plaza Streetscape Project.
“We discussed what we wanted the plaza to look and feel like,” recalled Feinmel at Wednesday’s event. “Landscaping and seating were our priorities and so was having a peaceful place to relax.” She says the group also envisioned a sculpture garden as phase two for the project. “In 2014, we started talking about a temporary sculpture that never happened. Then, in September of 2015, [RIOC] gave us the go ahead for a permanent pedestal.”
As for the concept of a competition, Sudol was a frequent traveller to London for work in those days. “I loved the story about the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square,” he says. “Three of the plinths are occupied by generals on horses.” A fourth plinth was supposed to hold an equestrian statue of William IV, but remained empty for 150 years due to insufficient funds.
“The artists from London had an idea to do a competition. Twenty years ago the first sculpture was selected. Now every few years, a new one is selected and the best artists from all over the world compete for the spot.” That is his vision for the Good Shepherd Plaza Sculpture Plinth: an international competition to bring new and vibrant art to the community.
Island of Art
Over the years, Sudol has worked to bring a steady stream of art to the Island, including acquisition of Blue Dragon at Southpoint Park, and the temporary placement of two La Mer sculptures last summer. He believes the Plinth will help bring more art to the Island, and calls it the “second step in our bigger vision, Roosevelt Island, Island of Art.”
He also discussed potential partnerships with the Noguchi Museum across the water in Long Island City, a collaboration with the art director for Governor’s Island, and ways of incorporating art into RIOC’s upcoming seawall replacement project.
The new sculpture joins an already sizable collection of art throughout the Island, which includes six outdoor public art sculptures, three art galleries, and a permanent exhibition of WPA murals at Cornell Tech. At a recent Board of Directors meeting, RIOC also agreed to fully fund and manage the long awaited FDR Hope Memorial, a new sculpture planned for Southpoint Park that depicts former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a wheelchair reaching out to a girl on crutches.
“All of these are just the beginning,” Rosenthal told the crowd. “It is through the arts that our quality of life is enhanced.”
Poast agrees with the sentiment. “Public sculpture should confront us. It should impact us. It should transform the space it is in, and it should engage us,” he says. “I am honored to be the artist of the first sculpture on the first plinth.”
And for art lovers wanting more, they need only walk to the other end of Good Shepherd Plaza where, at RIVAA Gallery, Laura Hussey’s Fragments is on display.
“The large paintings, specifically, were inspired by archeological sites in Greece where fragments of old mosaics and pottery remain,” says Hussey, who spent many years living and working in Greece. “In attempting to convey to today’s viewers what these works might have looked like when they were created, sometimes images are painted by filling in the gaps. Other times it is left more to the viewer’s imagination.”
Her exhibition will run through July 8.