High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt.” So begins the best-known children’s story by the renowned literary figure, Oscar Wilde (1854–1900). It seems fitting that British artist Ryan Gander (b. 1976, Chester, UK) has taken inspiration for his first public commission from the tale of an enchanted monument. Gander’s work often explores the currents that flow between language, imagination, and art. Here he has re-imagined the final, climactic moments of Wilde’s story where the statue is destroyed. Aided by a friendly swallow, the prince has given away all of his jewels and gilding to alleviate the suffering of the city’s poor. No longer impressive to city officials, Wilde’s denuded metal statue is melted down.
In Gander’s version, the statue appears to be stone; the fallen swallow and the prince’s indestructible heart lie amidst the rubble. On closer inspection we see that the “ruin” is a single massive object: a sculpture of a ruin. In this way, it functions like a plastic toy ruin, at once descriptive and frankly artificial. Gander’s wry evocation of Wilde’s tale still resonates in our own period of economic inequality. At the same time, it presents a contemporary approach to sculpture, where the role of the public monument remains an open question.
Major support for Ryan Gander’s The Happy Prince is provided by the Kraus Family Foundation.
Additional support from Lisson Gallery, and from James Keith Brown & Eric G. Diefenbach.
This installation is made possible through the cooperation of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; First Deputy Mayor Patricia E. Harris; Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe; Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate D. Levin; and the Central Park Conservancy.
Public Art Fund is a non-profit organization supported by contributions from individuals, foundations, corporations, and with funds from government agencies, including the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.
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