Volume 78 / Number 9 - July 30 - August 5, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Villager photo by Gabriel Zucker

A model of Arnie Charnick’s proposed public artwork that would incorporate the Astor Place cube sculpture.

Crappy idea or fun public art? Artist rolls dice at Astor Place

By Gabriel Zucker

Twenty-five years ago, Arnie Charnick took a look at “The Alamo” sculpture on Astor Place and saw more than one large black cube. He saw two dice.

Two weeks ago, the East Village artist discovered an old sketch of that idea “by accident” and decided, “This is a pretty funny, good idea.”

Charnick, who attended Cooper Union in the 1960s and has lived in the neighborhood 44 years, presented his proposed public artwork to Community Board 2 last week.

He would attach white Velcro dots to the existing cube sculpture and pair it with a similarly patterned Masonite structure. Then, he would paint the Astor Place island sidewalk like a craps table — complete with paintings of manhole-sized chips, one of which would be a manhole.

Finally, he would string a 17-foot-high banner between two lampposts at the eastern end, depicting a casino-like scene. The piece would take two or three days to create and would remain there two weeks.

“It’s all about the visual pun,” Charnick explained of the work, which would be called “Crapshoot.” “It’s just the most obvious thing to think of: Cube, dice.”

But, Charnick reported as he sat by a small-scale model of the artwork at his East Village apartment on Friday, not everyone at C.B. 2 seemed to get the joke.

“At the meeting yesterday, the very first woman said what I knew they were going to say: ‘This piece promotes gambling,’” said Charnick. There were also concerns about blocking the eastward view from Astor Place.

Charnick hoped he had defused some controversy with his financial plans.

“A lot of people are sort of up in arms now about the four waterfalls — $15 million,” he said, calling that installation “kind of cool.” “This entire piece is made from $3,500, and I already have somebody who will give me the money.”

He would also sell a poster of the Astor Place artwork in the neighborhood, with a majority of the proceeds going to an organization selected by the community board.

Charnick’s work can be seen on the walls at Veselka restaurant and at the McBurney Y, where he did the swimmers mural, temporarily located on the jogging track but which will eventually be moved to above the pool.

He’s now just waiting on approval from C.B. 2 and the city — not to mention Tony Rosenthal, creator of “The Alamo.”

“We sort of need him,” said Charnick, spinning the Astor Place cube in his model. “But if an artist says no… .”

Charnick admitted the C.B. 2 members “were taken by surprise.”

“The majority of people will think, ‘That’s cool,’” he said of his proposed sculpture. “And there will be a group of people that goes, ‘That promotes gambling,’ ” he sighed. “But, what’s art? Controversial, right?”

Brad Hoylman, C.B. 2 chairperson, said Charnick told the board he would consider the board’s feedback and return if he decided to pursue the project.

“I don’t think there was a lot of enthusiasm” for “Crapshoot” among board members, Hoylman said. “It was certainly unexpected. Someone thought three-card monte might be more relevant,” he quipped.

The debate, however, may be moot. According to Joseph K. Levene, Rosenthal’s agent, Rosenthal will not give anyone permission to alter his art.

“Can you go into the Museum of Modern Art and draw on a Picasso painting?” wrote Levene in an e-mail. “I don’t think so.

“What is the point of allowing someone else to capitalize on Mr. Rosenthal’s important and famous Work of Art by letting someone else modify or change or revise this Sculpture?” he asked. “Why not be an Artist, and create your own Art?”

Levene felt that Charnick was trying to capitalize on an already-famous work to gain fame himself, and thought he had an apt metaphor to describe it.

“If you want to be famous, rape Britney Spears and you’ll get in the newspaper,” he said.

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