David Geffen Hall (via Ajay Suresh’s Flickrstream)

On Monday, December 2, New York Philharmonic and Lincoln Center announced plans for a $550 million renovation project to address the David Geffen Hall’s much-maligned acoustics issues. The plans include a significant change to the stage, bringing it closer to the audience and placing sections of seats behind the orchestra for a slight “in the round” feel. The seating capacity will shrink from over 2,700 seats to around 2,200. There are also plans to expand the lobby and make it a more welcoming public space. Construction is slated to begin in May 2022 and will continue through intermittent spurts until March 2024.

One of the announcement’s more controversial decisions would leave out Richard Lippold’s “Orpheus and Apollo,” one of the original pieces of public artwork that had been a part of the building’s lobby since it opened in 1962. Measuring 190-feet-long and 39-feet-high, weighing in at around five tons and incorporating 450 steel wires, the striking piece of art greeted visitors before they entered what was then known as the Philharmonic Hall. The mid-century, avant-garde deconstructed chandelier was removed in 2014 for what was publicized to be conservation purposes. After a long delay, questions around its return began circulating as admirers of the piece feared the worst. Deborah Borda, president of the New York Philharmonic, said the sculpture was not reinstalled due to safety concerns over the piece’s wiring.

The news concerned fans and scholars of mid-century art who worry “Orpheus and Apollo” may not be publicly exhibited again. Theodore Grunewald, a preservationist, told Gothamist, “It’s really tragic because of the complexity of the sculpture. Once you take Humpty Dumpty apart, it’s hard to put it together again.”

Lippold, an industrial designer turned sculptor, often used geometrical shapes in his ambitious projects. Like a lot of Lippold’s public work, “Orpheus and Apollo” was an intricate balance of precise design and metalwork on an impressively giant scale, like his public sculpture Ad Astra in front of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. and his expansive piece for the former PanAm building Flight. Many of his most famous pieces were made in the ’60s and ’70s.

Lincoln Center still has a number of public sculptures in and outside of its buildings from its early days, but the slow loss of “Orpheus and Apollo” is a shock to preservationists and art lovers. As of now, there are no announced plans of showcasing it elsewhere.

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Monica Castillo

Monica Castillo is a writer and critic based in New York City. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Village Voice, RogerEbert.com, Remezcla, the Guardian,...