When I’m not documenting the city’s waterfront parks and hidden waterways, I make art about the city’s history. In this year’s NYC Parks’ 36th annual Wreath Interpretations winter holiday art show, I have a wreath titled 721 Fifth Avenue. The piece depicts one of the most newsworthy addresses in Midtown Manhattan.
The wreath depicts elements form the demolished Bonwit Teller department store and the Trump Tower that succeeded it.
What Was Lost
The building that hosted Bonwit Teller was completed in 1929 by architects Warren & Wetmore, who are best known for designing Grand Central Terminal. Atop the Fifth Avenue side of the building were two Art Deco friezes by Rene Paul Chambellan.
patron of artists
In its half century of business, the windows of Bonwit Teller exhibited not only the most stylish mannequins and cheerful winter holiday displays, but also the works of famous artists Salvador Dali, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, and Andy Warhol.
Destruction by Trump
After years of trying, in 1979 Donald J. Trump succeeded in purchasing 721 Fifth Avenue for a cool $15 million, seeking to replace it with his signature tower. Despite an earlier promise to save the friezes, Trump had them quickly destroyed, angering the city’s artistic and preservationist communities.
Architect Der Scutt (his birth name was also Donald) proposed relocating the friezes into the lobby but The Donald had none of it. In place of Bonwit Teller emerged the black glass façade and interior golden brick wall of Trump Tower.
The Kadinsky Wreath
In my Wreath Interpretations work for 2018, I sought to memorialize the art deco glory of Bonwit Teller with windows that recreated the displays of famous artists, Chambellan’s two friezes, and ribbon patterns inspired by Kahn’s entrance grillwork.
Atop the circle is an illustration of Trump Tower’s brick wall with plants, escalators, and waterfall. As the owner of this building is the subject of much controversy, I replaced his name on a golden metal plate with the word TOWER. But the lubalin graph bold font and background are recognizable enough to connect the word with his name.
In the center of the wreath is the UNICEF Snowflake, the world’s largest outdoor chandelier that hangs on the same block as 721 Fifth Avenue. My personal touch on this composition are the constellations filling in the wall space between the window displays and Kahn’s grillwork ribbons.
The real holiday miracle here are the following quotes:
“You make Trump Tower look beautiful” –a coworker who hates Donald Trump
“I had no idea that you supported Donald Trump” –A friend who supports President Trump
“You’ve truly brought out the beauty of Bonwit Teller.” –A news reporter who looked at this artwork
For a figure as polarizing as Donald Trump, it is hard to be neutral. I believe that my artwork satisfied all opinions as they concern him. Everyone is happy with this wreath.
This wreath is on display at the Arsenal 3rd floor gallery at 830 Fifth Avenue through Jan. 3, 2019.