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Artist encases Columbus Circle statue in a living room for an up-close look at the explorer

Traffic rounds Manhattan's Columbus Circle and its 70-foot-tall

Traffic rounds Manhattan's Columbus Circle and its 70-foot-tall column topped by a statue of Christopher Columbus high above a hectic intersection in midtown Manhattan. Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi has encased the 70-foot-tall column in scaffolding and is in the process of erecting a living room - complete with couch, coffee table and lamps - around the figure of Columbus. Some Italian-Americans say the art project makes a mockery of the great explorer and trivializes history. (Jan. 13, 2008) Credit: AP

As artists increasingly look to bust outside the museum, conceptual artist Tatzu Nishi is pushing us to see history from a new vantage point.

His "Discovering Columbus," for New York City's Public Art Fund, envisions a living room setting surrounding the Christopher Columbus statue in Manhattan's Columbus Circle. Opening Sept. 20, the free exhibit allows visitors to climb stairs (or take an elevator) and look at a 13-foot statue that normally towers six stories above the crowd.

Details of Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo's structure you'd normally need decent binoculars for -- the flap of the hat, the slightly furrowed brow -- will be seeable from Nishi's contemporary, wallpapered living room supported by scaffolding. And Columbus has a pretty good view of Central Park.

Nishi is known for putting creative spin on items such as the statue that are so part of our daily lives, they almost recede. This year, he constructed "Hotel Ghent," a hotel room around a bell tower in a Belgian train station.

Inherent in all public art, of course, is controversy, and The Associated Press has reported displeasure Italian leaders including John Mancini, executive director of the Italic Institute, who says the project "makes a mockery" of the explorer who sailed to the Americas 500 years ago.

"If the artist had attempted to stage a living room set around the Lincoln Memorial or the Martin Luther King memorial ... sensitivities would have been aroused," Mancini told the AP. "It's buffoonery masquerading as art."

Art or not -- I fall with a thud toward the former, imagining conversations about American history between kids and parents and everyone in between in the domestic setting of the faux living room -- one thing about the provocative installation is certain: It isn't permanent. "Discovering Columbus" runs through Nov. 18.

Free (and necessary) passes will be available starting next month at

Pictured: Christopher Columbus high above the hectic midtown Manhattan intersection at Columbus Circle.

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