A Life in Art

Why The East River Roundabout Needs More Love

Alice Aycock’s East River Roundabout is “a theater around which New York City enacts itself. And the viewer becomes a spectator in the play of the City as well as an actor competing phenomena.”

That ‘s from the artist, and it gives us a clue about the art’s potential to charm, soothe and entertain. But for now, it’s best if you squint and don’t look too closely.

Alice Aycock's East River Roundabout
The Roundabout was partly inspired “the weightlessness of Fred Astaire’s dancing,” according to the artist. It’s also whimsical, a rollercoaster of whirls, spirals and ladder straight down its spine.

On my way to the Roosevelt Island Tram, I decided to cross over the FDR to the East River Esplanade and have closer look. I saw it from above, hundreds of times, but not close up since the park nearby opened in 2017.

Reports, like one in Municipal Arts Society’s magazine, say that Andrew Haswell Green Park is under what’s now called the Alice Aycock Pavilion.

But that’s not true.

What’s under the small park is junk, scrappy stuff, lots of it, and it undermines the art. But it is true to Aycock’s vision.

Looking south, below Alice Aycock’s East River Roundabout, you find junk discarded from a city project. This is how New York City “enacts itself” so often, with an ugly urban theme.
It reminded me of the fate of Tony Rosenthal’s 5 in 1, a sculpture set behind the municipal building. Bright red, striking, when installed in 1974, 5 in 1 is now covered in grime. Is that the fate of the Roundabout?

Getting To Alice Aycock’s East River Roundabout

You have two choices for getting to the Esplanade taking you to the Pavilion where Aycock’s sculpture sets the tone. By far, the best is a footbridge that crosses the six-lane FDR just south of Rockefeller University.

It’s a bit grungy but elegant compared to the 60th Street approach,
You get to this gem of an up ramp only after navigating hectic York Avenue traffic flowing onto and off the FDR. Take a deep breath, the Alice Aycock Pavilion is straight ahead.

One reason for calling the Alice Aycock’s East River Roundabout “a gem ringed by junk” is that everything surrounding it is awful.

You get the best of it, walking (or riding) the East River Esplanade. Comfortable benches, shade and a generous dog park welcome you, but that changes as you close the gap.
First you pass this vivid reminder of the Pavilion’s history as a garbage transfer station.

And while you’re wondering what the thinking was that left this mess as it is, you follow the slight jog up a ramp to the Pavilion…

A converted section of a temporary highway entrance ramp doesn’t exactly shout “Welcome!”

Finally, the Alice Aycock Pavilion

East River Roundabout overhead, the Alice Aycock Pavilion scores with generous seating and a natural lawn. Classic New York City views stretch in every direction. Roosevelt Island appears differently than from any other angle, small and intimate, even with Cornell Tech straight across the river.

The Queensboro Bridge and Lenox Hill lift high around you.

Alice Aycock's East River Roundabout
Looking in the opposite direction, for a change, I watched the Roosevelt Island Tram glide between the beams.
Alice Aycock's East River Roundabout
Seating beneath Alice Aycock’s East River Roundabout is generous and comfortable.

But even so, the City’s tone deaf negligence can’t be avoided.

More than a week after the event, a grimy poster remains cinched to the railing, left behind by the sponsors.

Graffiti Scars the Pavilion

Few things say “urban blight” as clearly as careless graffiti allowed to remain, and the Alice Aycock Pavilion doesn’t fare well. Joining the abandoned poster…

Love has a different impact when it tarnishes the art in pursuit of narcissistic pleasure.
And GLOW WORM smeared along the concrete barrier echoes the pink splash in the background along the esplanade.
Seen from the Roosevelt Island Tram, Alice Aycock’s East River Roundabout…

Let’s be clear. Alice Aycock’s East River Roundabout is world class art. Can’t New York City make a nicer neighborhood of it?

Alice Aycock's East River Roundabout
A gem like this should get more respect from its surroundings. What it gets instead discourages visitors from the pleasures of the art above the Alice Aycock Pavilion.

4 replies »

  1. Made me remember to ask if you know what all the unsightly material is that has been under our helix for a very long time.

    • That’s part of RIOC’s negligent dumping ground. I covered it here in 2019: https://david-stone-writer.blog/2020/03/19/hey-rioc-save-this-space/. Got no results.

      Since it’s been there since before the current Motorgate project began, I believe it’s mainly helix construction debris, just left behind and, maybe, free storage space for a contractor.

      RIOC’s so neglectful of resident concerns, it’s hard to imagine this changing under the current regime. They wouldn’t have it in their own neighborhoods, but they’re content leaving it in ours.

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