The Andy Monument is sandwiched between Starbucks and Petco on Union Square West. Created by Rob Pruitt, and sponsored by Public Art Fund, this statue dedicated to Andy Warhol is made of polished chrome that shimmers in the daylight as it does under cover of night.
Warhol wears a Polaroid camera around his neck and firmly clutches a Bloomingdales shopping bag in his right hand. He once was a fixture of the neighborhood as his studio was steps away at 33 Union Square West. Now the stuff of legend, The Factory, as it was known, produced a celebrity image of excess and decadence. Art historical texts record the endless list of celebrities who paraded in and out to have screen test made, as well as the drugs and alcohol that freely flowed. Yet for an artist so dedicated to personal image, he appears small and meek: too thin with sunken cheeks, slumped shoulders and over-sized pants.
This image is in contrast to the equestrian portrait of George Washington that crowns the south end of the park. Henry Kirke Brown sculpted the founding father in full military regalia. His outstretched arm is a gesture of benediction modeled on the statue of Marcus Auerlies from Roman antiquity. Gallantly astride his horse Washington is a symbol of heroism.
Every age is responsible for constructing monuments that attest to their values. In the past decade Washington D.C. added memorials dedicated to World War II and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The 1995 bombing of a federal building has been commemorated in Oklahoma City. And under construction in downtown New York is a memorial to the victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks.
Pruitt states that “[e]very day, a thousand more kids come to New York propelled by Andy’s legacy … [making] this pilgrimage, coming here to make it big, to be an artist. Like Oscar Wilde’s grave at Père Lachaise, there should be a destination in New York to mark that journey. I think something needs to be in the streets of New York, something you could visit at four-thirty in the morning.” Art critic Jerry Saltz has echoed this in suggesting that it be permanently installed. Unfortunately, Union Square is no longer a mecca for young artists as it is dotted with discount chain clothing stores such as American Eagle, Filene’s Basement and the Nordstrom Rack. If Pruitt’s monument shows us anything about our contemporary moment, it is our consumerist obsession. Whereas the statue of Washington commemorates our national past, the one of Warhol merely confirms the reality of the economic present.
Before the monument was unveiled to the public it was wrapped in a simple white sheet that gracefully hugged the statue, conforming to the contours of Warhol’s slender frame. When the veil was removed the fragile figure proudly glistened in the sun yet failed to make a lasting impression. As I walked away toward the train I turned back only to see it disappear amid the sea of pedestrians.