Immobilized Astor Place Cube Slated to Spin Again by Summer
For the past year the beloved East Village sculpture has been shackled to stop it from tilting. Now repairs are imminent.
The iconic Astor Place Cube, which has been immobilized for nearly a year because of structural damage, would be restored to its original free-spinning glory by July 17, under a proposal from the city Department of Transportation obtained by THE CITY.
The plan, which is slated to go before the city’s Public Design Commission on Monday for approval, would see the 1,800-pound cube temporarily removed next month and shipped to Bethany, Conn., for restoration by Versteeg Art Fabricators — a firm that also did restorative work to the cube in 2005.
Their proposal calls for fixing the spinning mechanism and reinforcing and repairing the base of the East Village piece by early July.
The need for restorative work to Tony “Bernard” Rosenthal’s 1967 public sculpture was sparked by reports in December 2021 that the base of the piece was separating, causing the cube to tilt.
At that point, the city placed metal barricades around the 15-foot-high structure — which is titled “Alamo” — so the public wouldn’t interact with it.
But after further inspections found significant concerns, the city’s Department of Transportation welded brackets underneath the cube in April 2022 to support and completely immobilize it.
Some people didn’t take it well.
“New York died for me a moment ago when I found out you can no longer move the Astor Place cube,” reads a Tweet posted by @birdplayart in October. “Trying to move it by myself was a once a week childhood adventure and I can’t comprehend never doing it again.”
Others simply adopted the slogan “Free the cube.”
Emily Versteeg, whose father Peter Versteeg worked on the 2005 restoration and was a personal friend of Rosenthal’s, said her firm, which she runs with her brother Siebren, was approached by DOT and the Village Alliance to once again perform the restoration work.
“We’re committed to restoring the Cube’s ability to spin, and we’ve devised an easily maintained and replaceable Teflon solution for the kinetic movement of the Cube,” she told THE CITY.
Once the upgrades are completed, the cube is scheduled to be displayed from July 10 to 16 at the Hamptons Fine Art Fair on Long Island, which is inducting Rosenthal into its honorary hall of fame.
‘A Friendly Object’
Rosenthal, who lived and managed an art studio in Southampton, died in 2009.
One of his other renowned sculptures, 5 in 1, sits at One Police Plaza.
The director of Rosenthal’s estate said they need to wait for the Public Design Commission to vote before commenting, and Department of Transportation officials didn’t respond to questions about the price tag for the repairs.
This would be the fourth renovation of the popular public installation, which passersby have enjoyed spinning on its tip going back decades.
Prior restorations occurred in 1987, 2005 and 2014 to 2016.
Rosenthal got a kick seeing people interact with the sculpture, according to a quote from a 1968 interview that’s featured on his estate’s website.
“Anybody can walk over and push the cube and it will turn. If it had been monumental in scale, while it might have looked better in general for the surrounding area, at the same time it would have lost that human scale,” he said. “And in this case I’m delighted. Because people feel friendly. It’s a friendly object.”