Shadows and Flags, Louise Nevelson Plaza, 1977–78
Triangular intersection of Liberty Street, William Street, and Maiden Lane
This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.
Louise Nevelson Plaza was the first public plaza in New York City to be named after an artist. Originally designated Legion Memorial Square in 1977 under the auspices of Mayor Abraham Beame, the following year, on September 14, 1978, Mayor Ed Koch proclaimed the site Louise Nevelson Plaza. The plaza’s seven sculptures are together titled Shadows and Flags (1977–78) and are constructed from Cor-ten Steel, painted Nevelson’s characteristic monochrome black.
Nevelson created over twenty public commissions in her lifetime, placing her among the most prolific sculptors producing large-scale work during the public art resurgence of the 1960s and beyond. This resurgence resulted in significant part due to the creation, in the early 1960s, of the General Services Administration’s Art In Architecture program, which allocates one half of one percent of the budget of federal buildings towards artistic projects. Located behind the Federal Reserve building, Louise Nevelson Plaza provides a vertically-oriented configuration in the heart of the Financial District: Six smaller sculptures range in height from 20 to 40 feet, while the largest sculpture towers at approximately 70 feet tall.
Nevelson lived in New York City for over 60 years, and once remarked “I see New York City as a great big sculpture.”* She shaped, torqued, and welded the industrial Cor-ten Steel of Shadows and Flags into seven abstract configurations that evoke wafting flags, ceremonious spirals, and blooming trees. Nevelson was inspired to create these abstracted forms when she viewed the site from the aerial perspective of a nearby office building. She envisioned a set of sculptures that floated like flags above the plaza. The need for long-lasting materials for Nevelson’s public commissions led her to use metal in place of the wood, painted black, that distinguishes a significant portion of her practice. Nevelson noted, “Working in metal has allowed me to fulfill myself as an environmental architect.”**
Nevelson initially designed the entire plaza, including the plantings and benches, in addition to the seven sculptures. However, over time the plaza fell into disrepair, including an instance when a truck hit one of the sculptures. A 2010 redesign by Lower Manhattan Development Corporation restructured the site; the six smaller sculptures were redistributed and new benches and greenery were placed. As a result, only the 70-foot sculpture remains in the original location keeping with Nevelson’s initial conception. Nevertheless, Louise Nevelson Plaza still stands as a significant testament to both Nevelson’s influential career as well as her vision of towering abstractions placed within the cacophony of her beloved New York City.
– Alex Fialho
*Nevelson, Louise, Brooke Kamin Rapaport, and Arthur C Danto. The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson : Constructing a Legend. New York: Jewish Museum , 2007, p. 53.
**Lipman, Jean. Nevelson’s World. New York: Hudson Hills Press in association with the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1983, p. 177.
Shadows and Flags, 1977–78
Photos by Carlos Henriquez
© 2015 Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York