Rejected by Six Cities But Loved by Trump, Massive Columbus Statue Comes to Puerto Rico
"This man is major and legit,” Trump once said of the Russian artist.
It’s taken 25 years, but the voyage of Christopher Columbus is finally over. The Birth of the New World, a colossal statue of the explorer by Russian artist and architect Zurab Tsereteli, in the works since 1991, has been erected and dedicated on the coast of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Anthony Haden-Guest reports for the Guardian.
Tsereteli had initially wanted to give the 268-foot-tall statue, which weighs 6,500 tons, to the US a present in 1992, timed to the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s 1492 arrival in the New World. His plan was stymied when Columbus, New York, Boston, Cleveland, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami all reportedly said no.
The explorer’s place in the history books has been questioned in recent years, with a spate of vandalism incidents carried out on Columbus statues and monuments on Columbus Day last year.
Puerto Rico went forward with the statue, despite a petition by the United Confederation of Taino People to stop its installation, arguing that “Columbus is a symbol of Genocide, not a hero to be celebrated.” The monumental work was donated, but not exactly free, as it cost $12 million to install. (The installation was privately funded.)
Although the continental US ultimately passed on the monumental work, Mother Jones reports that the piece once had a major fan: presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“It’s got forty million dollars worth of bronze in it, and Zurab would like it to be at my West Side Yards development,” Trump told the New Yorker in 1997. “The mayor of Moscow has written a letter to Rudy Giuliani stating that they would like to make a gift of this great work.”
“I am absolutely favorably disposed toward [the statue]. Zurab is a very unusual guy. This man is major and legit,” Trump added.
The long-awaited installation of The Birth of the New World follows Tsereteli’s other massive seafaring sculpture, a monument to Peter the Great erected in Moscow in 1997, to honor the 300th anniversary of the creation of Russian Navy. As reported by the Washington Post, the artist, impatient to find a home for the Columbus statue, is said to have revamped the design to pay tribute to the Russian tsar—a story Tsereteli vehemently denies.
The cartoonish work seems like more of a theme park attraction than a work of art, and stands awkwardly on the Moscow skyline, especially when glimpsed from inside one of the city’s leading museums, the New Tretyakov Gallery, home to an impressive collection of Modern and contemporary Russian art. It is so unpopular that there was allegedly once a plan to blow up the work, and Radio Free Europe reports there is currently a movement to have the monument dismantled and relocated.
For Tsereteli, negative reviews aren’t much cause for concern. At The Birth of the New World‘s inauguration, earlier this month, he insisted (speaking through an interpreter) that, “Publicity is good. I know what I’m doing.”
For Puerto Rico, hopes are high that the artwork will become a popular tourist attraction, bringing a much-needed source of revenue to the region. “We are celebrating the Birth of a New World. But it is also the birth of a new Puerto Rico,” said Jose Gonzales, a partner in Tsereteli’s Puerto Rican company that financed the project.
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