Parks Citywide Monuments Program Provides Concrete Solutions
New York City’s parks are home to the most extensive public outdoor museum in the nation—its collection of art and monuments. Located in all five boroughs from neighborhood parks to civic centers, the art and antiquities includes work in a range of styles, many serving as permanent reminders of people and events which shaped our history and heritage. Others may be admired for their pure aesthetic value.
Preserving this collection is a year-round mission, but each summer for the past 18, the Citywide Monuments Conservation Program (CMCP) has conducted an intensive conservation and training program sponsored by private donations. Since 1997, more than 100 interns have conserved nearly 70 major monuments and artworks, and maintained (often annually) more than 100 sites.
The field conservation operation is directed by seasoned conservation managers John Saunders and Christine Djuric. They oversee a team of four apprentices who have studied or are enrolled in advanced degree programs in restoration, historic preservation, art history or decorative arts. This year’s field crew included Hannah Sawyer, David Deo, Christopher Witman, and Sara "Suki" Gershenhorn. Lee Boomer has served ably as the summer monuments administrative coordinator.
Working throughout the city, in often steamy weather and physically taxing circumstances, the field apprentices have carried out a diverse range of projects, receiving hands-on training in bronze and stone conservation, including condition assessments, corrosion removal, patination, application of protective coatings, and masonry cleaning and repair. A collection overview on day one introduced the team to how the collection evolved, its meaning and materials.
This year, two extended projects have focused on contemporary works of art, an objective and practice that has accelerated in recent years, as the program seeks to treat contemporary art with the same attention as historical works.
Just in time for the opening of the outdoor pools in late June, the team tackled repairs of the concrete wall that supports Keith Haring's famous mural at the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center. Partnering with Parks' masons, and muralist Louise Hunnicutt, with sponsorship from the Haring Foundation, the team filled cracks where moisture infiltration threatened the wall's integrity, assisted with resurfacing damaged areas, and cleaned and prepared the wall surface to be selectively in-painted at key locations. The mural fix, as The Villager reported "went swimmingly."
Further uptown at John Jay Park, conservators and interns treated Douglas Abdell's abstract sculptures from the 1970s, removing corrosion at the base, and repainting sections that had been compromised by accelerated weathering, dog urine and vandalism.
The biggest summer project by far has been the overhaul of Eduardo Ramirez Villamizar's Columnade. Located in historic Fort Tryon Park, this cast-concrete sculpture of eight 16-foot tall interlocking columns was commissioned in 1971 through Mayor Lindsay's Neighborhood Action Program. Weathering and the assaults of vandalism had taken their toll in the intervening decades. In the heat of the day, the conservation group has painstakingly removed many layers of graffiti and paint-overs, repaired the stone, resurfaced sections, cleaned and coated as an added measure of protection. The exposed steel base was treated for corrosion, and then covered by a newly poured matching concrete foundation with assistance from Parks masons. The result is a restored artwork that once again reflects the intended aesthetic and has renewed visual impact.
In keeping with the Monuments Program’s regimen of ongoing care, follow up maintenance was performed at several dozen major works in all five boroughs from the Riverdale Bell Tower in the Bronx to the East Coast Memorial in Battery Park, from Harlem Hybrid to the Dawn of Glory in East New York. The summer program concludes with a week dedicated to a thorough follow-up assessment and preventative maintenance at the Washington Square Arch, an integral aspect of the program's ongoing stewardship.
The summer intern educational experience has been enhanced with relevant field trips to the Modern Art and Bedi-Makky bronze foundries, the Municipal Archives research center and conservation lab, a tour of the Rockefeller estate Kykuit with its senior conservator Arnaldo Ugarte, an inspection of the laser-cleaning at Cleopatra's Needle, a walk-through the Cloisters with museum educator Leslie Bussis Tait, and a visit to historic Stony Creek granite quarry (which provided stone for the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty among other local landmarks).
The program would not exist were it not for the generosity of additional sponsors who augment the City’s commitment. This year's season was the beneficiary of a major charitable donation by music legend, sculptor and philanthropist Herb Alpert, with additional sponsorship by Donna Karan, the Haring Foundation, the Fort Tryon Park Trust, and the American Battle Monuments Commission, as well as site-specific dedicated endowments, enabling the program to continue to make a positive impact on the face of New York. These private benefactors are essential to sustaining the program, and ensuring that the collection shines.
Submitted by Jonathan Kuhn, Director, Art & Antiquities
QUOTATION FOR THE DAY
"One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is
constantly making exciting discoveries."
A. A. Milne
(1882 - 1956)