By Julie Shapiro
FINANCIAL DISTRICT — Louise Nevelson’s towering steel sculptures recently returned to the downtown plaza that bears her name.
The site-specific sculptures, called “Shadows and Flags,” were reinstalled exactly where Nevelson, a famed New York artist, placed them when the triangular plaza opened in 1977. The installation marks the final phase of a massive renovation of the space.
The rest of the Louise Nevelson Plaza, though, will look much different when the $2 million overhaul is complete and it reopens to the public in October.
The design, by Smith-Miller + Hawkins Architects, replaces the crumbling stone benches Nevelson designed with modern ones made of glass. Workers are also enlarging the plaza and adding more trees and lighting to make the small park at Maiden Lane and Liberty Street more welcoming.
“As lower Manhattan transformed into a more residential community, you have to rethink some of your public spaces,” said Philip Plotch, who is overseeing the project for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.
“We wanted to make it a more pleasant place to be during the day and a safer and more active place at night,” he said.
Nevelson’s six smaller sculptures, which stand 20 feet tall, were moved off-site in 2008 for restoration work, including sanding and a fresh coat of black paint. Late last month, the gleaming sculptures returned to their original locations in the plaza.
The larger 70-foot sculpture at the west end of the park stayed in place and is now draped in scaffolding so workers can refurbish it.
Nevelson, who was in her late 70s when the park opened, created the sculptures from scraps of Cor-Ten steel from a foundry in Connecticut. She often improvised her artwork, testing the way found materials could fit together, said Maria Nevelson, Louise’s 50-year-old granddaughter.
“The scale and the material is masculine, in a way,” said Maria Nevelson, who started the Louise Nevelson Foundation in Philadelphia. “It’s impressive to see a woman doing that, especially back then.”
The plaza was the first public space in New York named after an artist, in honor of Nevelson’s pioneering creativity, the city said. Nevelson died in 1988, at the age of 88.
Ro Sheffe, chairman of Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee, said he and others are eagerly awaiting the reopening of the plaza. In addition to the improved seating and lighting, he is looking forward to having the sculptures back in view.
“They’re jocular and so unexpected in this neighborhood,” Sheffe said. “It’s a visual delight. You turn the corner and here are these bizarre sculptures [right near] the Wall Street area. They’re wonderful.”