A Japanese artist is inviting the public to have an intimate view of Christopher Columbus high above a hectic intersection in midtown Manhattan.
Tatzu Nishi is constructing a contemporary living room on top of the Columbus Monument in Columbus Circle, where a 13-foot statue of Columbus is perched on a six-story column in the middle of a plaza where five busy streets intersect. Some Italian-Americans say the art project makes a mockery of the explorer.
"Discovering Columbus," commissioned by the nonprofit Public Art Fund, is a free exhibition that will run from Sept. 20 to Nov. 18.
Mr. Nishi has encased the 70-foot-tall column in scaffolding and is in the process of erecting the living room -- complete with couch, coffee table and lamps -- around the figure of Columbus. Visitors will climb stairs to reach the living room, where they will have a bird's-eye view of the city and Central Park.
"Encasing this majestic statue in a cocoon of conceptual art demeans the community and trivializes history," said Rosario Iaconis, chairman of the Italic Institute of America, an education think tank that represents about 1,000 Italians nationwide.
The fund said it received no objections to the art installation from other Italian groups, including the Columbus Citizens Foundation, a 600-member organization that sponsors the annual New York City Columbus Day Parade; the 50,000-member National Italian American Foundation in Washington, D.C.; and the Italian counsel general in New York.
But John Mancini, executive director of the Italic Institute, said those groups "didn't look very carefully at the fine print, which is it makes a mockery of 'The Admiral of the Ocean Sea.' "
"If the artist had attempted to stage a living room set around the Lincoln Memorial or the Martin Luther King memorial ... sensitivities would have been aroused," he added. "It's buffoonery masquerading as art."
Nicholas Baume, director and chief curator of the Public Art Fund, said he believed people's response to the piece will be different once they see it.
"What Nishi's work is all about is drawing attention and giving access to the public to urban monuments, statues and architectural details that they wouldn't normally have access to and to present it in a new way that gives it a contemporary relevance and opens our eyes to something that is perhaps overlooked," he said.intelligencer