Seward Johnson's sculptures take over NYC pedestrian plaza

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Posted: Jun 22, 2015 1:20 PM
Seward Johnson's sculptures take over NYC pedestrian plaza

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City has a new summer attraction that is bound to turn heads.

Seward Johnson's life-like and life-size sculptures of iconic figures like Marilyn Monroe and ordinary people doing everyday things are making an appearance along a pedestrian plaza of Manhattan's Garment District. They arrived from late Sunday into early Monday, occupying a stretch of Broadway between 36th and 41st streets.

They're so dead-on you're forced to do a double-take.

Constanza Roldan, a personal trainer, stopped in her tracks in front of a sculpture of a woman laden down with shopping bags. She approached closer and poked the figure in the arm several times.

"Very cool," she said. "Look at her hands, they're so real."

The installation features 18 painted bronze sculptures, including ones based on famous impressionist paintings.

They blend easily into the bustling scene around them — people hurrying past, lingering over a cigarette or sipping coffee at the many metal table and chairs along the pedestrian mall.

It is the largest public installation of Johnson's work in New York City, with highlights from three of his major series: "Celebrating the Familiar," ''Icons Revisited" and "Beyond the Frame."

"I hope New Yorkers on their daily commute will be shaken for a moment and pause — either because they are unsure of what is real or because they are reminded of something familiar," Johnson said.

"I try to celebrate the human relationship. What we are really about as people, individuals relating to each other and to nature," he added. "I like people being able to find a part of themselves in art."

The 85-year-old artist is the grandson of Johnson & Johnson co-founder Robert Wood Johnson and is the founder of Grounds for Sculpture, a 42-acre park in Hamilton, New Jersey, that features hundreds of large-scale contemporary sculptures. His work has been shown around the world.

The Garment District installation features two of his interpretations of iconic photographs: a life-size Marilyn Monroe holding down her billowing white dress and the kiss between a sailor and nurse in Times Square on V-J Day.

A 25-foot-tall version of the latter, titled "Embracing Peace," will be placed in Times Square for a few days in August as part of a series of events honoring World War II veterans.

Fiona Yan, a Manhattan tax accountant, posed with the Marilyn figure on Monday.

"I collect Marilyn Monroe Barbie dolls. I love it," she said.

A sculpture of a pair of Mariachi players had Mirela Anderson stumped for a second. The fashion technical designer who works next door said she initially thought "they're having music today" on the plaza.

She said it was nice "to come out of your (office) cubicle and see something interesting."

There's several works inspired by great 19th-century artists, including one based on a painting by Edouard Manet of a couple dining at a white-clothed table.

Slowing down is not in the octogenarian's vocabulary.

He is currently working on a sculpture of Winston Churchill painting at his easel for a site in California's wine country. He also plans a sculpture of John Steinbeck for Sag Harbor, Long Island.

This month, a 25-foot-tall version of Marilyn Monroe was installed in Dalian, China.

"It's whimsical, people understand it and it's approachable," said Barbara Blair Randall, president of the Garment District Alliance, which is presenting the installation through Sept. 15.