The Village has no shortage of art galleries, including, of course, the Whitney Museum. But the neighborhood is something of an open-air art gallery in and of itself, thanks to its abundance of public art. These range from traditional statues commemorating historic figures to modern works by Keith Haring and George Segal. There is even a Picasso to marvel at free of charge.
Bust of Sylvette
Between Houston and Bleecker Streets, Greene and Wooster Streets
I.M. Pei and James Ingo Freed designed New York University’s Silver Towers, aka University Village, in the early 1960s. The trio of 30-story buildings are considered an eyesore by some and an exemplar of modernist design by others. Almost everyone, however, agrees that the 36-foot-tall “Bust of Sylvette” that stands in the courtyard is nothing short of a masterpiece of public art. Pei commissioned Norwegian artist Carl Nesjär to create the sculpture after the towers had been constructed. A sandblasted-concrete rendition of Pablo Picasso’s original two-foot metal sculpture, it was sculpted in collaboration with Picasso himself.
Fiorello La Guardia Statue
Outside 536 LaGuardia Place (between Bleecker and West Third Streets)
It is difficult to award any one New York mayor the title of “most colorful,” but Fiorello La Guardia would certainly be in the running. During his three terms, from 1934 to 1945, he fought against corruption and organized crime and worked to modernize the city’s transportation system, among other reforms and initiatives, and he did it all with gusto. This 1994 sculpture by Brooklyn-based Neil Estern—whose other works include the bust of John F. Kennedy at Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza—captures “the Little Flower” in mid-stride and mid-oration, a refreshingly energetic and true-to-life representation compared with most other monuments of historic figures.
Carmine Street Mural
Tony Dapolito Recreation Center, Clarkson Street and Seventh Avenue South
Prolific pop artist Keith Haring created two public works of art for the city before his untimely death in 1990 at age 31. The “Crack Is Wack” mural in Harlem is the better known, but equally vibrant and more whimsical is the 170-foot-long mural gracing a wall outside the outdoor pool at the Tony Dapolita Recreation Center. Swimming children, fish, and merpeople are rendered in Haring’s signature black outlines against a white ground complemented with splashes of blue and yellow.
Gay Liberation Monument
Christopher Park, between Christopher, Grove, and West Fourth Streets
Despite the role that Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn played in the fight for LGBT rights, when George Segal completed his “Gay Liberation” installation in 1980, the city deemed it too controversial to install. So instead the first work of public art dedicated to the LGBT community was displayed in a park in Madison, WI, only moving to the Village’s Christopher Park in 1992. The sculpture consists of four white-lacquered bronze figures, a pair of standing men and a pair of women seated on a bench across the street from the Stonewall Inn.
Bleecker Playground, Bleecker and West 11th Streets
A playground is an ideal spot for this cast-bronze sculpture depicting two young children being held high by an older child, who in turn is being lifted by his seemingly floating parents. Ukraine-born artist and teacher Chaim Gross, who lived in the Village for nearly all his adult life, sculpted “The Family” in 1979, but he did not gift it to the city until shortly before his death in 1991, and he did so in honor of former mayor Ed Koch.
Abingdon Square Doughboy
Hudson Street and Eighth Avenue
This bronze depiction of a World War I foot soldier is one of nine doughboy sculptures erected in city parks shortly after the war. Honoring the residents of the Village who lost their lives in the service, it was donated by the Jefferson Democratic Club, which had been headquartered across the street. Sculptor Philip Martiny, whose studio was located near Washington Square Park, also created the nearly identical doughboy statue located in Chelsea Park.
Washington Square Park
Between West Fourth Street and Waverly Place, University Place and MacDougal Street
The nearly 10-acre Washington Square Park is home to a bronze statue of Italian unification leader Giuseppe Garibaldi, sculpted in 1888 by Giovanni Turini, who had served as a volunteer with Garibaldi during the Austro-Prussian War. Also in the park is an 1889 bronze bust by John Quincy Adams Ward of Alexander Lyman Holley, an innovative engineer and inventor who helped facilitate the rise of the American steel industry and was a founder of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. But the park’s most spectacular and best-known artwork is the marble Washington Arch. Designed by Stanford White and modeled after Roman triumphal arches, the 77-foot-high structure was completed in 1892. The statues of George Washington on the arch’s north side—familiarly known as “Washington at War,” by Hermon A. MacNeil, and “Washington at Peace,” by Alexander Stirling Calder—were added in 1916 and 1918 respectively.
Art al Fresco in Greenwich Village