Construction is underway on "Discovering Columbus"

Construction is underway on “Discovering Columbus” (image via Inhabitat)

Some of us are really excited about the Public Art Fund’s upcoming project Discovering Columbus, for which Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi will construct a living room around the statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle. A living room six stories above the street, mind you, bringing visitors nose-to-nose with the Italian explorer himself (or at least, his likeness).

But some Italian Americans are less than thrilled about it; in fact, they’re pissed. “This is sort of the beating heart of New York City, both for Italians and for all immigrants who came to this country,” a man named Frank Vernuccio told CBS local news. “I feel it is very much a desecration.”

He did modify that, however: “I don’t think it’s necessarily anti-Italian, I think it’s anti-good taste.”

The Italic Institute of America issued a statement that picked up on the crappy art theme, saying: “We are against it because it is bad art and it is disrespectful to the Italian-American community.”

If only we could get them to issue statements against all the bad art in the world! We’d have more declarations than we could handle.

All of this is slightly confusing, since the plans for the project also call for a conservation of the monument in cooperation with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, Art & Antiquities. And Discovering Columbus will be free. But on the question of timing, they have a point: Nishi’s project will keep the Columbus statue hidden from view during the annual Columbus Day Parade, happening this year on October 8.

Then again, the parade marches up Fifth Avenue, not through Columbus Circle. On top of which, many people aren’t so keen on Columbus and his day anymore, what with the slaughter of the Native Americans that followed and everything. But if we’re stuck with the public art we have, we may as well engage with it creatively.

Discovering Columbus will be on view September 20 through November 18 at New York’s Columbus Circle.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...

5 replies on “Some Italian Americans Call Columbus Project “Disrespectful””

  1. And the funny thing is it’s being done by a Japanese artist. Call it immigrant wants to get to know our countries history and Really study it. I can dig it.

  2. anyone complaining about this has fascist tendencies. one, because they refuse to consider columbus in rational perspective. and two, because “taste” is a tool of those who fear experimentation and hate progress. e sì, lo so che sia impossibile dire che colombo é colpevole per tutto che era fatto contro i nativi americani. non dobbiamo dirlo. però, dobbiamo assolutamente includere tutti punti di vista nella considerazione dell’argomento. e parlando di “gusto” non va. un artigiano confirma, un artista sfida.

  3. how dare we look face to face with Columbus, he decimated indigenous populations in such a heroic fasion.

  4. To paraphrase Massimo d’Azeglio writing on the unification of Italy, “We have made Italy. Now we must make Italians.” The identification of Italian is a modern creation dating to the 19th century. Columbus was not Italian, but Genovese. He did not speak Italian, but Ligurian. During his lifetime, the Italian penisula was a collection of republics and kingdoms, some independent, some under the sway of foreign powers, that were as likely to be enemies as allies. As a merchant republic, Genoa had colonies across the Mediterranean, and occupied territories for hundreds of years in the Adriatic and Crimea. While their numbers were drastically reduced during the political turmoils of the 20th century, the ancestors of these Genovese colonists have as much, if not more, of a claim to Columbus’ legacy as an Italian-American whose family immigrated from Sicily or Campania. Since the Kingdom of Naples was once a part of the Spanish crown, under whom Columbus served, perhaps modern Italian-Americans seeking to claim Columbus for their own might do better calling themselves Aragonese-Americans.

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