BY JENNY MUTCH
Founded by philanthropist and businessman John D Rockefeller Jr, Rockefeller Centre opened in 1933 in the heart New York’s Manhattan Island.
Comprising of nineteen buildings, the scale of the complex marks it out as a feat of architectural brilliance. However, it is only when these imposing Art Deco style structures are explored in close quarters that the hidden magic of Rockefeller Centre truly comes to light. Adorning the facades and entrance ways of these mammoth megastructures are a series of spectacular pieces of contemporary modern art.
Many of the pieces were commissioned by Rockefeller’s wife Abigail Aldrich. Free spirited and passionate, Abigail was given free rein and a great deal of money to decorate Rockefeller Centre with whatever she wanted. She was a modern art enthusiast and this was her opportunity to push boundaries and showcase new talent. While the complex is bursting with innovative and striking art works, here are just three of the stand out pieces.
Rockefeller Centre became a hub for emerging new media, buzzing with the excitement of television and radio. Many of the artworks reflect on this theme. ‘News’ bursts out above the entrance to 50 Rock, once home to leading news agency Associated Press. It depicts five journalists fighting against each other, desperate to get hold of a story. The energetic composition of the muscular male figures, paired with clean, metallic lines gives a sense of the frenzied urgency of a newsroom. Unbelievably, this monumental piece is carved from one piece of solid stainless steel, and is the only example of the artist working in this way.
The entranceway of the centre’s most iconic building, 30 Rock, is swathed, floor to ceiling, in murals painted by Spanish artist Jose Maria Sert. The ceiling mural ‘Time’ depicts the relationship between man’s past, present and future. The painting is a trompe l’oeil, with the central Titan figure appearing to simultaneously look forwards to the future and backwards to the past, depending on where the viewer is stood. His muscular figure forms a bridge between the two, reflecting man’s the present as a moment of balance, with one foot moving forward and the other planted firmly in what’s gone before.
‘Light and Movement’ was commissioned in 1978 by Nelson Rockefeller. Much less figurative than the majority of artworks in Rockefeller Centre, this later piece was designed to create a feeling of warmth and welcome in what was the stark entrance hall to 630 Fifth Avenue. It is made up of ten unique panels of 1600 gold plated metal leaves hung from wire. Flooding the entrance hall with a golden glow, this dynamic piece brings a feeling of tranquillity to this vast space.
Representing just a tiny fraction of the artworks at Rockefeller Centre, these three pieces give a flavour of the innovation, craftsmanship and hidden stories waiting to be discovered in this ‘city within a city’.