About the Exhibition
The dramatic architecture surrounding Rockefeller Center’s Channel Gardens frames a major exhibition of sculpture by American artist Paul Howard Manship (1885-1966, b. St. Paul, MN), perhaps best-known for his monumental gilded rendering of Prometheus, permanently installed at the heart of Rockefeller Center overlooking the famous ice rink. Manship’s work is an elegant addition to the summer season in New York. The public has a rare opportunity to view eight bronze Manship sculptures on loan from South Carolina’s renowned Brookgreen Gardens in one of New York City’s quintessential public spaces. The exhibition presents this artist’s singular path in the history of American art during the 20th century.
Beginning on Fifth Avenue, visitors to the exhibition encounter Diana and Actaeon, representing the Roman goddess Diana and her companion Actaeon. They depict the myth of the unfortunate hunter whom Diana, in a fit of rage, transforms into a stag after he stumbles upon her bathing in a woodland pool. Just a few paces beyond is Evening. Manship’s poetic imagination is revealed in this sculpture, a component of Moods of Time, a fountain group designed as a pendant to Time and the Fates of Man for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Moods of Time features four figures representing Morning, Day, Evening and Night. Evening, symbolized by a dreamy female figure, floats horizontally above a group of clouds.
Sited at the center of the Channel Gardens, surrounded by a dramatic floral landscape, is Time and the Fates of Man. With this work Paul Manship employs his favorite sculptural devices—symbolism and time—as presented in this centerpiece for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The three Greek Fates who determined the destiny of mankind are depicted within a composition anchored by the Tree of Life. In front, posed like a ship’s figurehead, is Clotho, the youngest Fate, who presides at the moment of birth and spins the thread of life from a distaff. The second figure, Lachessis, stands and measures the thread as it passes through her fingers. Depicted as a woman in her prime, she determines the direction of life. The thread continues behind her to the third figure, Atropos, who is shown as an old woman with shears, cutting the thread of life at death. An enlargement of this sculpture, which also functions as a sundial, was exhibited in Constitution Mall in front of the Trylon and Perisphere at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
At the western end of the Channel Gardens is Manship’s Cycle of Life, symbolizing the earth with the life cycle of the family at its center, surrounded by bands decorated with signs of the zodiac, the hours of the day, symbols of the four elements, and representations of evening and morning. The sphere rests on a circle of turtles, ancient symbols of eternity. Framing the view of Prometheus from the Channel Gardens are Youth and Maiden, which were originally commissioned as companion figures for Rockefeller Center’s famous fire god, one male and one female, to represent humankind. Originally placed on either side of the gilded Prometheus, each figure extends one hand to receive the gift of fire.
And, recently re-installed following extensive renovations of the rink area, viewers encounter the monumental Prometheus, the mythological Titan who brought fire to humanity. Symbolizing the very first sculptor that fashioned man out of clay, the colossal work makes another symbolic statement regarding Rockefeller Center, the ultimate designed city within a city. Despite the grand architecture and scale of Rockefeller Center, Prometheus is not overwhelmed by its surroundings. One of America’s most recognized sculptures, Prometheus is a major attraction at Rockefeller Center and is the centerpiece of this exhibition.
Susan K. Freedman, President of the Public Art Fund, states, “It is an incredible opportunity to match the majestic architecture of Rockefeller Center, as one of New York’s most prominent and prestigious public spaces, with engaging sculpture exhibitions of the highest caliber. Through our ongoing collaborations, we hope to bring added vibrancy to New York’s cultural and civic life.”