A Living Room Suspended Over Columbus Circle

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This week, the Public Art Fund is unveiling "Discovering Columbus," by the Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi. Since 1997, Mr. Nishi, 52, has been fabricating domestic environments around artworks and public monuments, like the kitchen he built around a Picasso hanging on the wall of a museum in Nagoya, Japan.

For his latest project, he enclosed Gaetano Russo's 1892 statue of Christopher Columbus at Columbus Circle within a living room on a scaffold more than 70 feet up. Visitors will be admitted into the 810-square-foot space for a carved-marble-eye view of Central Park.

Mr. Nishi, who lives in Germany, was in the city last week to complete the project. He discussed it with a reporter, through an interpreter.

What attracted you to the Columbus statue?

I had four or five days to look around New York City, and I was looking at so many public sculptures. Finally I decided between two things: One is Columbus and the other is an angel sort of sculpture that is part of a fountain in Central Park.

I noticed a lot of public sculptures in New York City are set on a low base, or even without a base, on the ground, compared to the ones in Europe. And I noticed that Columbus is really in a high position. That's what attracted me. By raising up people's eyes, you can see things with a different perspective. That's the important point of it.

Columbus has a complicated place in American history. Did you consider that as well when making your choice?

I never thought about the historical thing. It's purely visual. Once I've decided I'm going to work with this sculpture, then I research the sculpture in order to think about the interior of the living room.

This being the Home section, let's talk about furniture. Do you have, say, a favorite sofa you use in your work?

I don't put my taste into my living rooms. I'm not making a living room that I want to live in. Sometimes I make a living room that I don't totally feel comfortable with. Sometimes people who look at my living rooms say, "You have really good taste," but it's not really true. My concept of the art project is to make the interior exterior, and the exterior into the interior, and also make some public thing private or domestic, and the other way around.

But your décor decisions must be guided by something.

For this project, the wallpaper is pink, and the reason I chose pink is, I thought that pink is the color that is most different from Columbus Circle. Look at Columbus Circle: there's Central Park, which is really green, and on the opposite side is the Time Warner building, which is glass and concrete, and the Museum of Arts and Design, which is similar -- a sort of a new, modern building. And then there's the north side, with some brick buildings.

From the first meeting with Bloomingdale's, I said I would like to make a living room which is in typically American taste, and they sort of laughed, because they have only expensive furniture. So I think my living room looks a little more expensive or high class then the average living room.

At least it has a TV.

I was so surprised, this huge TV: "It's too big in my living room." They said, "It's a typical American thing." I still can't believe that people have these huge TVs.

What does your own home look like?

I don't have a TV. I don't have a sofa. Just a bed. It's simple, very simple.

I noticed on your Web site that you made a giant Buddha out of tofu with a fountain of soy sauce springing from its head. What's that about?

Typical artists use either stone or iron or steel to make sculpture, but I wanted to show how we can use a completely different material. It's another sort of altering of the view that people have.

Your site also lists several aliases you've worked under. What is your real name? Why don't you use it?

My real name is Tatsuro Nishino. That's also one of my art pieces: to change names. When I was studying in art school in Germany, I came up with the idea of exchange. I exchanged a huge clock on the tower of my school with a little one on the cafeteria wall. But what inspired me about this name project was when I got a passport. My real name is in Japanese characters, but of course in a passport you spell with the alphabet. I was always thinking, this is not my real name. The Japanese character name is my real name.

How often do you change it?

In the beginning, every two years. But actually, Tatzu Nishi is the longest I've had a new name now. It's been five years, and I've started feeling bored with the idea of changing names, so it's beginning to be my name. Sometimes I feel I'm going to stick to this name, but sometimes I feel I'm going to have two more names in my life.

"Tatzu Nishi: Discovering Columbus" will be on view at Columbus Circle through Nov. 18. Information: (212) 223-7800 or publicartfund.org.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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