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Voluptuous Nude Sculpture to Grace Koch Bridge Off-Ramp

By Amy Zimmer | July 8, 2011 6:07pm | Updated on July 8, 2011 10:47pm

UPPER EAST SIDE — A sculpture of a voluptuous reclining nude woman made by the late French artist Gaston Lachaise is about to grace a little park off of the former 59th Street bridge — but some wonder if the chaotic intersection is the best place for it.

The massive 1934 bronze sculpture known as "The Mountain" is slated to be installed at the Tramway Plaza on Second Avenue between East 59th and 60th Streets in August.

The location, sandwiched between the Roosevelt Island tram terminal, the mouth of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, and the busy Second Avenue wasn't the first choice by Lachaise Foundation, which oversees the artist's legacy. 

They wanted to put the statue — the original version of which was cast in cement and commissioned for a big grove of pines on a rolling hill at an estate in Lenox, Mass. — in Central Park. But the bid was rejected by the Parks Department, Lachaise Foundation curator Paula Hornbostel said at a meeting of Community Board 8's parks committee Thursday.

"It's original setting is a bucolic setting," Hornbostel conceded. "Maybe it's not the perfect place."

But Hornbostel said she hoped the art would help transport viewers to somewhere more calm. 

"Ideally it's for people sitting in the park to admire and enjoy and remind them of some bucolic setting," Hornbostel said.

The massive sculpture of Lachaise's wife spans nearly nine feet across and will be lifted five feet off the ground on pillars in the park's southeast corner.

Elevating it will allow the sculpture to be viewed not only by pedestrians passing through the busy thoroughfare along Second Avenue between East 59th and 60th streets where the Roosevelt Island tram terminal is, as well as make it visible to drivers coming off the bridge toward Second Avenue or 59th Street, proponents said.

"As you drive south [along Second Avenue] you'll see more and more of her and hopefully not crash," Hornbostel joked.

One board member thought the Lachaise Foundation was doing a disservice to the artist by putting the statue in Tramway Plaza rather than a loftier setting.

"I don't understand why you would pick Tramway Plaza to exhibit a Gaston Lachaise," Teri Slater said. "People coming off the Queensboro Bridge are in a foul mood. They're late for work, they're truck drivers, they're not going to appreciate a Gaston Lachaise."

"I think you're shortchanging New Yorkers," Slater added. "I think more New Yorkers would enjoy it in another location."

But community board member Barry Schneider, who has lived in the area near Tramway Plaza for 45 years, took offense to Slater's remarks.

"We'd be foolish to turn it down," Schneider said.

The community board members were less concerned about the woman's nudity than about possible safety hazards, including tripping hazards, children climbing on the sculpture or the chance it could impede the flow of pedestrians. The board members requested that the statue be lit after sundown.

Mark Vaccaro, of the Parks Department, assured them the statue would be safe.

The Lachaise Foundation has recently been involved in litigation in the bankruptcy cases of the Upper East Side Salander-O'Reilly Galleries and Lawrence Salander, who was sentenced to six year in prison last year for conning celebrity clients and others out of $120 million worth of artwork. 

The Lachaise lost a reported $2.8 million after consigning works of Gaston Lachaise to the gallery.