Joie de Vivre, 1997
Zuccotti Park, Broadway

This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.

Mark di Suvero’s 70-foot steel construction Joie de Vivre (The Joy of Life) is a colossal abstraction in the heart of downtown Manhattan. Joie de Vivre, 1996, has been displayed in Zuccotti Park (formerly Liberty Plaza) since 2006, which marked the fourth location for the sculpture within a decade of its creation. It was initially placed in Paris at the Esplanade des Invalides through 1997, and later moved to New York for display at Storm King Art Center as well as the rotary of the Holland Tunnel.

Joie de Vivre consists of two tetrahedrons composed in flipped relationship to each other, with interlocking elements at the central vertex where the shapes meet. Merging the aesthetic and the industrial, a characteristic quality of di Suvero’s I-beam configurations is that the nuts and bolts of a work’s making are revealed in its form. Di Suvero is also one of the pioneers of the use of the crane for producing sculpture. A former member of New York City’s crane operator’s union, di Suvero handled the majority of the cutting and crane operation for Joie de Vivre‘s construction himself.

Throughout his career, Mark di Suvero has had a robust relationship with public sculpture. Recent outdoor exhibitions include Crissy Field, San Francisco (2013–2014) and Governors Island, New York City (2012), and many of his works are located on the site of the renowned Storm King Art Center sculpture park in upstate New York.

Joie de Vivre’s primary red paint color took on a distinctly proletariat inflection with the arrival of Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park in 2011. The sculpture acted as a significant icon of Occupy, transforming the previously nomadic work into one rooted in the contemporary collective consciousness at the site of Zuccotti Park.

Though di Suvero did not participate actively in Occupy Wall Street, Joie de Vivre’s proximity to the movement’s home base brought the history of di Suvero’s political engagement to the fore. Di Suvero left the United States in exile for five years beginning in 1971 in opposition to the Vietnam War and one of his early large-scale works, The Peace Tower, 1966, adamantly protested the Vietnam War through the incorporation of protest signs within the scaffolding of the 50-foot sculpture.

Critic Yates McKee aptly described the way in which Joie de Vivre was repurposed throughout Occupy Wall Street, writing “the sculpture has been exposed to new unofficial uses: signs have been posted on it; occupiers and journalists have climbed up the legs to get a better vantage of the General Assembly; marches used it as a departure point; speeches and performances have been undertaken in the minimal proscenium created by the legs.” Indeed, a sculpture whose location has varied since its creation has now been re-inscribed through its association with the site of Occupy Wall Street, adding to its evolving legacy with memories of purposeful occupation.

The past, present, and possible futures of Joie de Vivre thus demonstrate the ways in which public art must attend to and contend with the very notion of the public sphere and public intervention, which have the potential to radically transform the very metaphors of art’s meaning.

– Alex Fialho


Photo Credit:

Joie de Vivre, 1997
Collection of the Brookfield Charitable Foundation, New York;
Gift of Agnes Gund
© Jeffrey Price