“Ëlisabeth Stapen brought the most famous sculptor in the world to Roosevelt Island. We told him, Gustav Kraitz, a story of the Island and the unique plan we have to turn this into an Island of art. He decided to donate the first sculpture,” says RIVAA’s Tad Sudol of the Roosevelt Island Visual Arts Association. The sculpture will be officially unveiled in South Point Park on April 26 at 11:00 a.m.
“Timing is everything,” says Stapen. She had worked with Gustav Kraitz to restore damage done to his famous sculpture, Hope, which stands in front of the United Nations, when she told him that she was living on an Island and asked if he would like to visit. “Being a curious man, he said, ‘Let’s go.’ ” Stapen arranged for him to meet with Tad Sudol and, after walking to Southpoint Park and talking about the Island, the plan was made. The married sculptors, Ulla and Gustav Kraitz who work together, are presenting the sculpture as a gift from both of them.
In 1997, the artists were commissioned to create a monument to the memory of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from Nazi camps and death. That sculpture is intended to represent hope in the face of tragedy and determination to carry on. There are five columns with inscriptions that reveal aspects of Wallenberg’s life and accomplishments. The middle column is capped by a blue sphere representing hope. Next to the columns is a briefcase initialed R.W., a reference to work unfinished. The artists are especially pleased that Blue Dragon which is a children’s sculpture, is just across the East River from the United Nations, and across the river from Hope.
Tad Sudol is quick to thank the many people who worked to make this a reality. “Without RIOC’s (Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation) efforts to embrace this, especially those of Susan Rosenthal [Acting RIOC President], we would not have the space or the foundation for Blue Dragon.”
Sudol explains that when the project was initially proposed, it did not immediately take off. “Later we approached RIRA, and with the help of Lynne Shinozaki [Chair of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association Social, Cultural, and Educational Committee], it gained a little more traction and we again applied to RIOC,” Sudol says.
Yet, as Rosenthal points out, “When I met with Tad and Ëlisabeth, this project was a no-brainer for me.” Other supporters are State Senator Jose Serrano who has been very supportive of art on the Island in the past, putting together events for the long-term patients on the Island. Hudson-Related and Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright have also been supporters.
Sudol emphasizes that the unveiling of the new sculpture on April 26 will show the residents, press, and State officials that the Blue Dragon is merely the beginning. Roosevelt Island will be a destination for art, a “way to stimulate a new way of thinking about the Island.”
Sudol’s long-term goals include turning the steam plant into an arts center and fostering a competition among sculptors to have their work shown on the Island. He thinks of this donated sculpture as a first step and says artists in Long Island City have already committed to bringing art here. Sudol notes that Roosevelt Island is already surrounded by art, including the Socrates Sculpture Park and the Noguchi Museum.