Modernist Horse Sculptures Removed by City Housing Agency

A construction crew removed all but the legs of 18 horse sculptures earlier this month in a sculpture garden at the Wise Towers, a New York City Housing Authority complex on the Upper West Side.

The group of horses were made in 1964 by the Italian modernist Costantino Nivola, who popularized the idea of bringing art inside public housing projects.

Art historians are upset. “It’s awful,” said Michele H. Bogart of Stony Brook University in New York, who has taken to social media about the move. “I am making noise in order to try to bring out information about this distressing situation, and to ensure that NYCHA doesn’t allow for any further action to be taken with the other sculptures on the site.”

The Nivola Museum in Sardinia, Italy, which is devoted to the artist’s legacy, released a message on its Facebook page on March 9, calling the removal “institutional vandalism.”

The director of the museum said on Wednesday that the move was a “destruction of Nivola’s work.”

In a statement, NYCHA said that the horse statues were being stored at the Wise Towers, and that they had been removed because of a problem with the water main. Barbara Brancaccio, a spokesperson for the Housing Authority, did not respond to questions of whether a conservator was involved or if NYCHA had contacted the artist’s estate. But she did say that Nivola’s work “will be restored and highlighted” as part of a larger project at the Towers, which, she said, was expected to be finished by next summer.

“We are committed to working with the community, the development company and outside partners to ensure the restoration and preservation of the art,” Brancaccio said.

Over the years, people have tried to fund the refurbishment of the sculpture garden. Landmark West, a local preservation group, lobbied the city for money in 2016. That same year, a nonprofit organization, Fund for Public Housing, attempted to raise private funds for restoration.

In an article in Arte magazine, Michele Pais, president of the regional council in Sardinia, where the artist is from, called on the city to send the art home for restoration: “It is a massacre that hits the heart of our culture.”

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