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Christopher Columbus' Swanky 60-Ft High Apartment Opens at Columbus Circle

By Emily Frost | September 19, 2012 2:33pm

COLUMBUS CIRCLE — Christopher Columbus' apartment would give most New Yorkers real estate envy.

The cushy 810-square-foot flat — part of Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi's $2.5 million public art exhibit that puts visitors face-to-face with the 120-year-old Columbus Statue in the center of Columbus Circle — opened Wednesday to visitors brave enough to scale the 6-story scaffolding atop a 60-foot riser.

Inside, the scene was a mashup of Bloomingdale's and Classic Americana, with a swanky plush purple couch, beige armchairs and oak end tables alongside wallpaper covered in images of Elvis, Mickey Mouse, Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson.

A brand new Samsung television played CNN while the New York Times, Bloomberg and Lucky magazine were scattered on coffee tables at the base of the 13-foot tall Columbus. Framed prints by Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock, as well as personal photos of Nishi's, hang on the walls. 

"It will knock your socks off," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who toured "Discovering Columbus" Tuesday and whose foundation, along with Time Warner, was a lead supporter of the work, which was put on by the Public Art Fund.

The installation is the latest in Nishi's series of hotels and apartment-like structures erected around historic sculptures across the world.

From Sept. 20 through Nov. 18 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., viewers can reserve free tickets on the half hour and climb or ride an elevator to view the statue close-up along with sweeping views of Central Park, Midtown and the Upper West Side. 

The work will not only "reveal the statue in original and surprising ways," said Bloomberg, it will help draw visitors. Some 25 million tourists visit the city each year for its cultural attractions, he said. 

"Culturally-minded tourists contribute something like $21 billion," said Bloomberg. 

One hundred thousand visitors are expected to view the work in its six-week run, according to the Public Art Fund. Bloomberg said he does not anticipate the statue causing any congestion issues.

"Not many people drive across Columbus Circle," he said.  

Three years ago the Public Art Fund invited Nishi to New York to explore spaces where he might create a public artwork. He was taken with Columbus Circle and proposed his idea, his first major U.S. installation. 

"Quite a few people thought it was far-fetched," said Chief Curator Nicholas Baum.  

"Columbus is finally getting a taste of the American Dream, his own apartment overlooking Central Park," said Baum.

Not everyone is thrilled with the work. The Italic Institute of America, an Italian heritage group, is calling the project "ego-centric" and said it "removes the moument from greater public viewing during Columbus Day" and does not publicize Columbus in any way. 

Mayor Bloomberg scoffed at the criticism, saying it "boggles the mind." 

"You can't see it from the streets [otherwise]...the sculpture was meant to be viewed."

And while organizers want visitors to feel at home, offering them real books on the shelves and letting them spread themselves out on the couch, after about a half an hour guards who are stationed in the room at all times to bar any interference with the work will gently nudge them to leave.

Still, Bloomberg said, he's not worried about anyone making off with the flat-screen TV or otherwise wreaking mayhem.

"This is New York. People don't go around defacing public art," he said.