By Robert Beck
It’s called Verdi Square, but it’s not square. Yes, it’s a square as in a place where people gather, like a town square, but a square as a shape, no. However, what that shape is depends on where you learned geometry. Countries, cultures and even people you would expect to agree on something like this have their separate takes on shapes. It’s either a trapezoid or a trapezium. One has exactly two parallel sides (depends who you talk to), like the block where this statue is located.
If you ask Euclid and Archimedes, they will tell you the park bordered by Amsterdam, Broadway, 72nd, and 73rd is a trapezium. A right trapezium. It’s hard to argue with them. When you think of everything going on over, under, and around that spot, it feels more trapezium in name than a square, anyway. The sound of it brings to mind the old Hippodrome, located not that far south on Broadway, and conjures the circus-like Montmartre dance halls; Moulin Rouge, Lapin Agile, Le Chat Noir. Verdi’s Trapezium sounds like a grand operatic forum with gymnastic apparatus hanging from the ceiling.
The subway entrance that shares the park was based on the Crystal Palace in London. Along with the monument to Giuseppe Verdi, created by Pasquale Civiletti, there is the sculpture Odalisca by Manolo Valdes that alludes to the work of Picasso and Matisse, urns inspired by a design by Stanford White for Prospect Park, and a lamppost transplanted from the Firemen’s Memorial on Riverside Drive. And how about that funky little steampunk concession stand? It’s so much more than a square. Trapezium suggests a labyrinth of mystery and adventure, even a little magic—a place of wonder. When I write my own guide to the universe, I will call it Beck’s Trapezium.
The Ansonia is as important to this painting as the monument. The building is of an age when architecture was a fine art rather than an economic one, and its exquisitely proportioned fenestration makes an excellent context for the sculpture. It has Belle Epoque written all over it. The residents played a critical role in rescuing and restoring the park and the monument. Painting them together as a nocturne adds intimacy, connection, and elegance—everything you could want in a trapezium.
This is the second monument I painted in a park on Broadway. The first was across from Lincoln Center. That square was a triangle.
You can contact Robert through his website at robertbeck.net
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