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Bust of Sylvette
“A sudden bold and unexpected question doth many times surprise a man and lay him open.” - Francis Bacon
Persuasion usually doesn’t work with me when I am asked to take unplanned routes while strolling through compact urban streets. A surprisingly persuasive dear friend suggested an odd route while I was near New York’s SoHo neighborhood: the courtyard of a New York University housing compound on Bleecker Street. With his odd suggestion, I arched my right eyebrow, looked at him with a skeptic expression, but as soon as I heard the name Picasso, I was in for the stroll and a change of pace.
I did not have to bleed, sweat, or cry during the stroll. It was simply a block away from where I had stood, through a passageway beside a small playground. The courtyard is one of those modestly open urban spaces with sidewalks, a driveway, and large grass-covered lawn. A few skateboarders, running children, and a couple of baby strollers and families were amongst the other occupants that day, under buildings designed by I.M. Pei & Associates. Pei designed the complex and immediate surroundings, which serve as co-op housing and apartments for University faculty and graduate students, in 1960 and completed the project in 1966.
To my surprise, in the middle of it all, on the grass lawn, stood an inspiringly tall cubist sculpture called the Bust of Sylvette. A 1968 collaboration between Carl Nesjar and Pablo Picasso, it is a sculpture in-the-round of the head, neck, and shoulders of a woman named Sylvette David.
As I snapped photographs while walking clockwise, I couldn’t take my eyes off Sylvette, as her expressions differ from every angle. I blatantly stared at her, as New Yorkers often do at people without intimidation. And as I stared, I became impressed with her texture, due not only to the Betograve technique of sandblasting concrete but also to the concrete having been mixed with black granite.
I am living in a wonderful city where one can discover large-scale iconic spaces at any time. Inspirations are endlessly available. Simply step outside and look around, or perhaps just ask a friend to take you to one of his or her favorite places. You might be surprised.
Photos by D.B. Kim.