A 15,000-pound elephant arrived yesterday in New York's Union Square. At the tip of a traffic island across from a Starbucks, he is balancing upside-down on his long, skinny trunk, acrobat-style. His fat legs wiggle in the air, his wrinkled skin sags, and his big ears flop down. He looks like an earnest, unwavering circus animal. He'll be there, hamming for the cameras, until May.
The 26-foot-tall bronze elephant, titled "Gran Elefandret" by Spanish artist Miquel Barceló, is the latest public artwork unveiled in Union Square, where a Warhol sculpture by Rob Pruitt recently had its 15 minutes of fame. It was easy for a crane to secure the elephant in place; the monumental sculpture is attached to a several-ton steel base by a steel tube. Previously exhibited in public plazas in Madrid and Avignon (where smitten residents launched an unsuccessful campaign to convince the government to purchase the sculpture), "Elefandret" has been brought to New York by Marlborough Gallery, which represents the artist.
What does an elephant have to do with Union Square? "I think of it like a metallic tree," Barceló told ARTINFO. "A tree looks like an upside-down elephant, and when you touch a tree, it feels like the skin of an elephant. It's an urban work."
Barceló, who has shown at the Pompidou, the Reina Sofia, and the Louvre, among other institutions, was delighted to see New Yorkers taking to "Elefandret" so quickly. "Yesterday, I saw more than 20 people sitting around the base of the sculpture — talking, reading, kissing," he said. "New Yorkers are very active, they take ownership very quickly." (In 2007, the same traffic island that now boasts "Elefandret" was transformed into an old-fashioned boudoir for a 72-hour-long performance featuring artist Lián Amaris Sifuentes.)
Barceló's sculpture is the latest of several public artworks presented by the city in partnership with Marlborough Gallery. In 1993, the gallery helped organize a show on Park Avenue of 14 bulbous nude sculptures by Colombian artist Fernando Botero. Now, they've swapped one rotund mammal for another.