The Astor Place Cube, which has spent more than half a century being spun by drunk NYU students and curious tourists, is now locked in place. As The Village Sun reported Wednesday morning, Tony Rosenthal’s Alamo sculpture is wrapped in a metal brace.
Local news site EV Grieve noticed in December that barricades had been erected around the cube, and a steel prop was installed in April — apparently because the cube’s spinning mechanism needed repairs. Earlier this week, the barriers came down but the brace remains.
The cube was meant to be temporary when it was first installed in 1967 (as part of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs Sculpture and the Environment program), but neighbors loved it and successfully petitioned to make it permanent. It wasn’t designed to spin either. As Rosenthal told New York in 2005, “I actually thought we would put it on this post and we’d turn it to the position we wanted it and then stick it like that.” But the sculpture was never bolted in place. “I did not realize that the turning was such a factor in people’s enjoyment of it,” Rosenthal said.
In the decades since the cube was installed, the 1,800-pound sculpture has been in a routine cycle of maintenance: It was restored in 1987 and again in 2005, when it was sent to Connecticut to be reworked by Versteeg Art Fabricators. (When it returned, people complained that it didn’t spin the way it used to.) In 2014, as the plaza underwent renovations, the cube was removed again for repairs — filling in dents, fixing corrosion, and servicing the pivoting mechanism. (It also gets an annual lubing.) The cube was returned fresh and clean in 2016, gently dropped off like a baby carried by a stork:
Every time the cube disappears from the neighborhood, people miss it. (“All sorts of conspiracy theories were floated” during its repair trip to Connecticut in 2005, the city’s then–parks commissioner told the New York Times.) And now it’s unclear when the poor cube will spin again. As The Village Sun reported, “According to a source close to the project, D.O.T. just didn’t want to spend any more money trying to fix the sculpture’s spin glitch.” A DOT spokesperson told Curbed that “there will be a second repair phase with timeline TBD.” But for now, the brace removes a little of the cube’s magic: It always felt like it was balancing gracefully on a knife’s edge. What is it without its spin? What are we?