Sunday, May 3, 2009


"It's only forever, that's not long at all..."

No, this isn't about the 1980s movie that featured a teenage girl, a baby in red-striped PJs, a large maze, odd creatures, and a bizarrely attractive David Bowie as a Goblin King.

This odd forty-foot tower stands at the center of a outdoor sculpture called Labyrinth on the southeast corner of the Empire State Plaza and was the work of Francois Stahly.

I can't say I'm overly fond of modern art, but we have a great deal of it at the Plaza. Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the driving force behind the massive project to build the Plaza (or the South Mall as it's also known), however, like modern art a lot more than I do and was largely responsible for the selection and installation of almost one hundred pieces - both paintings and sculptures - in and around the Plaza.

The Labyrinth is one of the few pieces I do like, but that's probably because I never really saw it as a sculpture. When I was growing up, the Labyrinth was one of my favorite places to play on at then new South Mall. I liked it even better than the terrific wooden playground near Madison Avenue and Swan Street.

Often, I would see other kids - always a little older and a lot bolder - climbing this central tower...right to the top. I kept my feet firmly on the ground and never considered climbing. I was more than content to ramble about the forty or so smaller structures that surround the tower.

Stahly's Labyrinth was, for years, described as teak wood. However, a couple of decades of wind and snow and rain were beginning to take a toll on the structure and, during a conservation study, it was discovered that it was in fact a type of African wood called iroko. Conservationists also discovered that the sculpture was suffering from a number of decay problems, including a form of wood rot. The structure has since been repaired and stablized.

I remember the wood being almost black when I first saw the Labyrinth. Over the years, it has mellowed to gray.

I still have no inclination to climb the iroko wood tower and I'm sure Plaza security would pull me off if I tried, but the Labyrinth is still a terrific place to sit and eat lunch or read a book or just relax with an iPod...which, of course, includes the soundtrack to the movie, Labyrinth.

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