Four Periods of Publicity

20 Vesey

20 Vesey

 15,000 Years vs. 15 Minutes of Publicity

When I first read about the "Four Periods of Publicity," I imagined a series of figures illustrating the fame or notoriety of a single person or event: the equivalent of watching Andy Warhol's "15 minutes of fame" come and go. Instead, the figures show how knowledge was disseminated through the ages. The sequence runs from right to left. I've reversed the order for the photos here.

The limestone from which these figures were carved is wearing down, and the sculptures are stained by run-off from copper elements on the building's façade, so it's a challenge to spot the attributes that identify the figures.

Publicity 1

Above (on the far right of the building): a bald man in flowing robes, one hand at his ear. According to a September 1907 article in Architect's and Builder's Magazine (cited in SIRIS Inventory of American Sculpture NY000148), this figure represents transmission of information via the spoken word.

Publicity 2

Above (second from right on the building): a man wearing a leather cap and a habit holds a large book in his right arm. The book, which is secured by a heavy strap, is presumably a medieval manuscript. ABM identified this figure as "By Written Word."

Publicity 3

Above (second from left on the building): a modern-looking man with chin-length wavy hair and a coat with sleeves. He holds what appears to be a quill pen in his right hand. ABM tentatively identified the object in his left hand as an inkwell, and said the figure was "indicative of the potentialities of the newspaper, showing an editor in modern garb." I don’t see anything in the figure to justify so precise an identification. On the other hand, why would the artists show us another figure writing? Perhaps he's a Renaissance scholar ... Well, now I'm just guessing.

Publicity 4

Above (far left on the building): a man with long hair and a flowing robe, wearing a cap. He holds what appears to be a single page in his left hand, and rests his right on a column with a spiral running down it - probably representing the screw from an early printing press.

The Garrison Building

From the sources I've consulted so far, it's not clear whether Borglum and Kohn collaborated on these four sculptures or whether each did one or more separate sculptures. The Garrison Building at 20 Vesey Street was constructed for the New York Evening Post (founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1801), which had offices and a press there until 1926 - hence the themes of the press and publicity on the facade.

Printers' Devices

The printing theme continues on the façade of 20 Vesey Street with reproductions of devices of early printers (similar to modern trademarks) set on the horizontal bands between the floors. At the level nearest the sculptures it the most famous of these, Aldus Manutius' entwined dolphin and anchor, symbolizing speed of production combined with steadiness of purpose.

20 Vesey Aldus device

Aldus had this charming notice above the entrance to his shop in Venice:

Whoever you are, Aldus earnestly begs you to state your business in the fewest words possible and begone, unless, like Hercules to weary Atlas, you would lend a helping hand. There will always be enough work for you and all who pass this way.

Aldus was one of the great early printers; a marvelous selection of his works on on view through 4/25/15 at the Grolier Club. If you miss it, the New York Times review has a slide show of highlights.

Francfordia device

Above: On the next level down is the device of Nicolaus de Francfordia, who worked in Venice.

Froelich device

Above: A swan, the device of Iacobus Froelich of Strassburg.

Elzevier device

Above: On the level nearest the ground, the device of the Elzeviers, a Dutch printing dynasty of the seventeenth century. The motto (on the left) is "Non solus."

For these identifications, I'm extraordinarily grateful to Fred Schreiber of E.K. Schreiber Rare Books, who is a font of knowledge on sixteenth-century books.

Sculptor Gutzon Borglum

Gutzon Borglum (John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum, 1867-1941) is most famous for the gigantic presidential heads at Mount Rushmore, executed from 1927 to the early 1940s. New York City has several of his earlier works: General Daniel Butterfielda series of apostles at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (Amsterdam Ave. between 111th and 112th Streets), and Henry Ward Beecher (Orange St. between Hicks and Henry, Brooklyn Heights). The Metropolitan Museum has two of his works. (Type "Borglum" into their site's search engine.) Newark has no less than four of his sculptures, including the substantial Wars of America. Elsewhere Borglum did pieces ranging from Salome and Nero to anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. He is also famous for an unfinished work: a relief at Stone Mountain, Georgia, that would have been 120 feet high and a quarter of a mile long. In 1925, after critics slighted his portrayal of Robert E. Lee, Borglum halted work on the project and destroyed the models.

Borglum on the Armory Show of 1913

Borglum was well known for his outspoken opinions. The Armory Show, held in February and March 1913, introduced New Yorkers to "modern" art from Europe. In a speech at the Cooper Union that March, Borglum condemned it as

that farcical and foolish exhibition made up largely of paranoiacs. All the interest centred in the cubists. People rushed by the thousands to see them, and I say it was a shame and a crime the way the newspapers paid so little attention comparatively to the good work in the exhibition, for there was a lot of good work hung there. The woman coming down stairs! What nonsense! What insolence! A friend of mine said it looked more like stairs coming down a woman. Matisse has been quoted as saying that his eight-year-old son painted as well as he did. My faith, I believe it. -- Borglum, New York Times 3/29/1913

Click here for Teddy Roosevelt's comments on the 1913 Armory exhibition.

Further Reading