Lincoln Center is readying to renovate its facility with $550 million improvements, which will include moving the stage closer to the audience, enlarging the lobby and enhancing acoustics. The upgrade also takes in downgrades – cutting 500 seats and cutting down the shimmering metal chandelier sculpture by Richard Lippold titled Orpheus and Apollo that's been giving the impression of floating from the concert hall lobby ceiling for the last 57 years.

Old memory

In the interest of transparency, I studied with Lippold, and while I found him a reluctant teacher (he didn't seem inclined to share his professional experience with his students, as did his fellow art luminary Robert Motherwell, with whom I also studied), I saw him as a great sculptor.

Doing away with his 39-foot-high, 190-foot-long work is a terrible decision.

Safety concerns

Deborah Borda, president of the New York Philharmonic, which Lincoln Center houses, told the Associated Press that the sculpture would not be rehung citing "current safety standards that impact the wiring." Admittedly, there are 450 wires in the sculpture. Theodore Grunewald, a preservationist best known for defending conservation of modern art and architecture, seemed to understand when he told Gothamist, “It’s really tragic because of the complexity of the sculpture.

Once you take Humpty Dumpty apart, it’s hard to put it together again.”

Disregarding history

Even so, Gothamist also quoted Grunewald saying, "It's morally indefensible. They didn’t consult the artist’s estate. They didn’t consult the public." Clearly undaunted, Lincoln Center President Henry Timand told the AP, “We’re looking forward to creating a hall that the city deserves." I wonder.

Like many New Yorkers, I grew up with this sculpture at Lincoln Center, and it feels bad to see it go.

For me, its all-encompassing silver shininess signaled night, a special night intended for magic. Gothamist reported that even New Yorkers outside the art world feel sad about the loss of Lippold's sculpture. One cited, Eddie Crimmins, told the newspaper that when he saw Orpheus and Apollo as a teen, it brought to his mind two birds in flight. "I realized that modern art might not suck." But there will be no such realization for other teens like Eddie.

Gotham quoted Grunewald saying the sculpture was "doomed once taken down. Lippold himself was said to have warned against ever taking the piece down." Yet, it was taken down and even taken apart five years ago, reportedly for conservation, according to a New York Times story in 2015.

Big loss

There's an irony to the takedown of Orpheus and Apollo. Consider the colossal bronze sculpture called Statue of Freedom by Thomas Crawford that's been standing on the pinnacle of the U.S. Capitol Building dome since 1855. Likely, most people are not aware it's there because of the distance from eye level, and too far up to notice, let alone appreciate.

In contrast, even though Lippold's sculpture is a ceiling sculpture, given its very great height and length, you couldn't miss it. And for more than a half-century, it's been part of the Lincoln Center experience, which won't be the same without it.

Don't miss our page on Facebook!