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Public Art Fund Presents a New Project by Ryan Gander Entitled The Happy Prince
Ryan Gander, The Happy Prince, 2010. Glass-reinforced concrete, 17’ 7” (w) x 10’ 8” (D) x 7’ 7” (H). Courtesy the artist and Public Art Fund.

NEW YORK, NY.- Public Art Fund presents its commission of a new project by Ryan Gander entitled The Happy Prince, on view in Doris C. Freedman Plaza at the southeast corner of Central Park, September 15, 2010 – February 13, 2011. “Ryan Gander, one of the brightest young artists in Europe, has conceived a brilliant new work for one of New York’s most prominent public spaces. Taking inspiration from Oscar Wilde’s beloved children’s story, The Happy Prince, Gander has transformed the parable of a noble statue into an arresting work of contemporary art,” said Nicholas Baume, Public Art Fund Director and Chief Curator. In conjunction with the Public Art Fund project, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum will present a new commission by Gander in its Aye Simon Reading Room as part of the museum’s Intervals series.

In Wilde’s story, the Prince, a gilded and bejeweled statue standing atop a column, observes the daily suffering of his city’s poor. One afternoon, he befriends a swallow, who he convinces to strip the jewels and gold from his body to distribute to the people, alleviating their misery. After helping the Prince, the swallow, who has grown increasingly cold with the onset of winter, dies at the Prince’s feet, and the Prince, who is no longer covered in riches, is toppled from his place of honor by the Town Councillors who no longer deem him a fitting and beautiful statue for their town square.

In creating a work after Wilde’s story, Gander follows in the footsteps of other notable artists who have drawn inspiration from literature. In the story, the image of the destroyed monument is never described but is left to the imagination; Gander’s The Happy Prince captures the moment as a sculpture. Using a sophisticated casting process with glass-reinforced concrete, the artist depicts the scene of the fallen statue at life size. Like a romantic ruin, elements of the original statue remain visible: the Prince’s heart, sword, and helmet, as well as the body of the dead swallow. As a reminder of the statue’s former grandeur, the base of the column is still visible and protrudes through the surrounding debris. However, unlike the fragments of an actual ruin, Gander’s work is one single, massive form. His work is not a literal illustration of Wilde’s story so much as a representation of the ruin as an idea. We see that all the elements are made from the same material and that they belong to a whole. The artist presents not a ruin but a sculpture of a ruin.

A conceptual artist whose past works have included elements of architecture, language, typography, design, and city planning, Gander often weaves together narratives that grapple with the nature of art and object making, polemical ideas, and social norms. In The Happy Prince, he draws on Wilde’s tale about a public monument as well as the history of sculpture and the urban context of New York City, to create a poetic and lyrical sculpture that re-imagines public art. Sited in Doris C. Freedman Plaza, the sculpture resonates with the surrounding civic monuments; it also invites comparisons between the inequalities of wealth in the gilded age of Wilde’s fictional city and modern-day New York. If the writer’s parable takes up the themes of privilege and charity, the artist overlays those with questions about the nature of public art and our contemporary experience of the monument. The Happy Prince is Ryan Gander’s first public art commission.

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