The Newly Restored Astor Place Cube Is Spinning Again in Manhattan (After a Brief Stop in the Hamptons)
After a weekend in the Hamptons—and an extensive restoration—Tony Rosenthal's beloved cube is back in Manhattan.
The famed Astor Place Cube, officially titled Alamo, was reinstalled in Manhattan’s East Village today following two months of repairs.
“The Alamo cube is a true icon… not only of the East Village and Astor Place, but of New York City and the United States. Millions of visitors want to come here to spin or take a photo of this great sculpture,” said Ydanis Rodriguez, commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, which oversees the sculpture, at today’s unveiling ceremony.
The eight-foot-tall Cor-Ten steel sculpture by Bernard “Tony” Rosenthal, which weighs 1,800 pounds, has been a fixture of Astor Place since 1967. But in May, it left its normal East Village perch to allow the late artist’s estate to carry out much-needed repairs.
“Yes, it was missed, but we told everyone it would be back,” Rodriguez added. (The DOT has overseen the sculpture since 2016, as one of 23 permanently installed public artworks in its collection.)
Before its reinstallation today, the sculpture took an unexpected sojourn out east, where it appeared at the Hamptons Fine Art Fair this past weekend. The visit, first reported by Dan’s Papers, was organized in celebration of Rosenthal’s posthumous induction into the Hamptons Artists Hall of Fame. (The artist donated a similar cube sculpture, Cube 72, to Guild Hall in East Hampton in 1972.)
“It’s one of the great landmarks of New York. A lot of people were taking selfies,” Rick Friedman, the fair’s executive director, told Artnet News, adding that securing the sculpture’s loan required a year of negotiations and mountains of paperwork.
At the fair, Alamo was part of a 17-work outdoor sculpture park erected for the occasion. The Tony Rosenthal estate sold a seven-and-a-half-foot replica of the cube sculpture on view at the fair for $250,000. The buyer, the Pauline and Austin Neuhoff Foundation in Dallas, snapped up the work within 10 minutes of the opening of the fair’s vernissage on Thursday.
A record 12,000 guests visited this year’s fair, which closed three hours early on Sunday due to flooding from torrential rain. The DOT oversaw Alamo’s removal by crane on Monday morning, transporting it back to Manhattan via truck, the New York Times reported.
Originally intended as a six-month installation as part of New York City’s first major public art show in 1967, Alamo was an immediate hit and became a permanent part of the downtown landscape. A large part of its appeal was actually a happy accident: Rosenthal had intended the work be locked into place, but the public soon realized you could push the cube to turn it on its axis.
Spinning the cube has become something of a rite of passage among New Yorkers, especially for nearby New York University students. But the rotating mechanism broke in 2021, and the sculpture was beginning to tip over. The city installed a metal brace as a temporary measure to hold it in place, and then sent Alamo to Versteeg Art Fabricator, a foundry in Connecticut. The $100,000 restoration, funded by the Tony Rosenthal Estate, involved mechanical repairs as well as a fresh coat of paint.
The company’s late founder, Peter Versteeg, worked with Rosenthal for many years. He had previously restored the work in 2005, using Teflon, a self-lubricating polymer, as the bushing, or lining, for the metal pole on which the cube is suspended. His children Emily and Siebren Verteeg, now the foundry’s co-CEOs, helped devise a subtle redesign that should keep Alamo spinning for decades to come.
“When that Teflon washer wears out, the cube will likely stop spinning, because it will be grinding metal on metal,” Siebren Versteeg said at the unveiling. “It’s quite simple to restore and refresh the teflon washer. We wouldn’t need a rigger next time, we’d be able to lift up the cube just a few inches and the washer [will be] installed in two halves.”
Now that Alamo has been restored to its fully spinning glory, the Village Alliance has pledged to manage the day-to-day maintenance of the sculpture and the surrounding plaza, ensuring its continued presence in Astor Place.
“I get asked very often what makes a great work of public art,” Kendal Henry, the assistant commissioner of public art at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, said at the unveiling. “You know when a work of art was supposed to be up for six months, but [after] over 50 years its still here; you know when a piece is damaged not from vandalism, but from love of use; you know when it becomes an urban legend—is there a man living in the cube?—and you know when other artists are using the image in their own artwork.… This, I dare say, is one of the most successful works of art in New York City.”
The Alamo is on view at Astor Place, 149–179 East 8th Street, New York, New York.The Village Alliance and Joe’s Pub throwing For the People: Live Music, Dance and Liberation, a public party presented by the Community Cookout and the Soapbox in celebration of the work’s return on July 23, 2023, 5:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m.
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