Skip to main content

Ludwig Mies van der Bear: Urs Fischer's Giant Teddy Bear Meets the Seagram Building

Urs Fischer Untitled (Bear/Lamp), Seagram Plaza


The steel and bronze Seagram Building (1958) by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) at the corner of E. 52nd and Park Ave, set back from Park Avenue behind sleek fountains, stands as a paradigm for the well-made modern glass office building. Sleek, soaring, and minimalist, clad in bronze and glass, the building recalls the type of structure that the architect envisioned for Berlin in the 1920s. Along with Philip Johnson, who was responsible for the interiors, the Seagram influenced many copy-cats, but few were as successful in sensitivity to site or design. The building introduced the modern plaza, a space still frequented by midtown workers during pleasant weather.

Fischer Bear/Lamp, Seagram Plaza



Seagram Building, meet the bear. Starting officially today, Christie's is presenting the 23-foot tall Untitled (Lamp/Bear) (2005-2006) sculpture by Urs Fischer (b. 1973) to bring attention to its Post-War & Contemporary Evening Sale on May 11. The work is up for auction and expected to generate a lot of interest. The plan is for the work to remain in Seagram Plaza for five months, so let's get to know Urs and his bear. Urs, whose name means "bear" in Latin, drew upon his own teddy bear in creating the monumental work. It's a masterful work technically. A cast bronze exterior painted in yellow paint and lacquer covers a stainless steel interior support. The cuddly-looking bear defies its own materiality. Also, the bear leans against a table lamp, creating a charming informality. Importantly, the lamp actually functions, so the sculpture will take on a nice glow at night. The thing weighs 35,000 pounds, so Christie's partners at the Seagram Building had to shore up the plaza floor in order to support the big bear. This bear, like real bears, could crush and kill you.

Fischer Bear/Lamp, Seagram Plaza


In theory, there are few better places to site a sculpture of this stature, in terms of public spaces. The Street Life Project, a New York City Planning Commission study that began in 1969 to ascertain why some public spaces were consistently popular while others remained relatively empty, deemed the Seagram Plaza one of the city's great successes. The plaza attracted people to stop and sit down, to choose to mingle with friends or stay by themselves, to find a sunny or shady spot, depending on the weather, and to hang out and eat a sack lunch near the fountain. The elements that made Seagram Plaza successful and versatile were later incorporated into city guidelines for all new public spaces.

So, what happens when a giant yellow bear sits down in Seagram Plaza and leans against a table lamp? Without the bear, the plaza is still that place to sit down and eat lunch or meet friends or contemplate the masterpiece of Mies van der Rohe. But, it's a rather buttoned-down, decidedly grown-up, Midtown "Mad Men" sort of place. The Seagram Building is "serious." The presence of a monumental teddy bear, however, changes the mood and atmosphere. The bear is like a cute sweet kid who has just unexpectedly walked into his parents' sophisticated cocktail party. Some people drinking their martinis will enjoy this interruption. Others will not.

Ahhh, but who doesn't wuv a cute cuddly teddy bear?

Mies and the bear

For a self-guided architecture walk of this general area, read the related post, A Walk for the Optimistic Modernist: From MoMA to the United Nations.

Images of Seagram Plaza by Walking Off the Big Apple from the afternoon of April 7, 2011.

Comments

I would say that Mies probably wouldn't wuv it, Teri. Here in Chicago, we have the Mies-designed Dirksen federal center. Alexander Calder's amazing Flamingo sculpture was installed after Mies died. Many think he would have flipped his less-is-more lid if he'd been around when it happened.

That said, we're coming to NYC next weekend! I haven't seen the Seagrams Building in all my visits and have always wanted to. Thanks for the reminder, Teri--I may just have to grin and "bear" it and see it the way Mies wouldn't have wanted it seen.
Teri Tynes said…
Thanks, Terry. Mies probably wouldn't like it in front of his building, but I think the bear kinda looks like Mies. I'm not done with the Bear quite yet. The next post will suggest a good walk to see the bear and nearby architectural attractions. So glad you're coming to the city!
Phil Davis said…
For a few decades the plaza has been a favorite place of mine to just sit and watch the world go by. Sometimes I read, but usually just watch people and traffic and look up at the buildings. The strict, simple geometry of the architecture is complemented by the lines of the street grid in a way that is very relaxing to me and quite serene.

So much of my personal image of New York was formed before I ever saw it by movies of the 50s and 60s and this stretch of Park Avenue seemed to be used a lot in those films. I expect to see Rock Hudson and Doris Day pass by any minute.
You're right, Teri--it does look like Mies! Probably another reason he would disapprove. The Seagram Building and the bear are now definitely on our list.
And Phil, I totally understand what you mean about having your image of New York formed by movies (and TV, for that matter) before ever getting there. Even on my first visit to New York, so much of it felt so familiar.
Teri Tynes said…
Phil, I loved your comment about images of NYC being formed by Doris Day-Rock Hudson pictures. Now I want to see a few of these, like "Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?," a Doris Day film about the 1965 blackout. http://www.dorisday.net/where_were_you_when_the_lights.html

Popular posts from this blog

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Please see this post for current announcements of reopenings . Please consult the museum websites for changes in days and hours. UPDATED September 23, 2020 Advance tickets required for many museum reopenings. Please check museum websites for details. • The  Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)  reopened to the public on  August 27 , with new hours for the first month, through September 27: from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday to the public; and from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.  on Mondays for MoMA members on ly. Admission will be free to all visitors Tuesday through Sunday, through September 27, made possible by UNIQLO. See this  new post on WOTBA for a sense of the experience attending the museum . •  New-York Historical Society  reopened on  August 14  with an outdoor exhibition, "Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” in the rear courtyard. The exhibit by activist Kevin Powell and photographer Kay Hickman will highlight how New Yorkers weathered the quarantine

25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

(updated 2016) The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at 11 W. 53rd Street is near many other New York City attractions, so before or after a trip to the museum, a short walk in any direction could easily take in additional experiences. Drawing a square on a map with the museum at the center, a shape bounded by 58th Street to the north and 48th Street to the south, with 7th Avenue to the west and Park Avenue to the east, proves the point of the area's cultural richness. (A map follows the list below.) While well-known sightseeing stops fall with these boundaries, most notably Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the great swath of famous Fifth Avenue stores, cultural visitors may also want to check out places such as the Austrian Cultural Forum, the 57th Street galleries, the Onassis Cultural Center, and the Municipal Art Society. The image above shows an intriguing glimpse of the tops of two Beaux-Arts buildings through an opening of the wall inside MoMA's scu

25 Things to Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(updated) Sitting on the steps in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of those iconic things to do in New York City. On a sunny day, the wide steps can become crowded with the young and old, the tourist and the resident. It's tempting to stay awhile and soak in the sun and the sights. Everyone has reasons for lingering there, with one being the shared pleasure of people watching along this expansive stretch of Fifth Avenue, a painting come to life. Certainly, just getting off one's feet for a moment is welcome, especially if the previous hours involved walking through the entirety of art history from prehistoric to the contemporary. The entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue The Metropolitan Museum of Art should be a singular pilgrimage, uninterrupted by feeble attempts to take in more exhibitions along Museum Mile. Pity the poor visitor who tries "to do" multiple museum exhibitions in one day, albeit ambitious, noble, and uplift

A Walk From Lincoln Center to Zabar's

If you happen to be attending a noon or matinee performance in Lincoln Center or otherwise happen to be hanging around there for whatever reason and find you've got some time, I recommend a stroll up Broadway to Zabar's, the famous Upper West Side food emporium. This stretch of Broadway takes in the sights of several new housing sky-rises, several theaters, and some flamboyant former apartment hotels of the early 20th century. Flâneurs will love the Belle Epoque ambiance of these overly-ornamented buildings, and the distance from W. 66th or so to W. 80th is not so taxing, especially if you're dressed in shoes for the opera. View Larger Map Several noteworthy structures along the way - The Dorilton, 171 W 71st St., from 1900-02, at the northeast corner of Broadway, is considered a Beaux Arts masterpiece. The 72nd St subway station dates from 1904 and is a funny little thing. Verdi Square, at the convergence of Broadway, Amsterdam, an W. 73rd, is a nice small park fea

14 Useful Mobile Apps for Walking New York City

Texting and walking at the same time is wrong. Talking on the phone while strolling down the street is wrong. Leaving the sidewalk to stop and consult the information on a cellphone, preferably while alone, is OK. What's on Walking Off the Big Apple's iPhone: A List Walkmeter GPS Walking Stopwatch for Fitness and Weight Loss . While out walking, Walkmeter tracks routes, time, speed, and elevation. This is an excellent app for recording improvised or impromptu strolls, especially with many unplanned detours. The GPS function maps out the actual route. The app keeps a running tally of calories burned while walking, useful for weight loss goals. Another welcome feature is the ability to switch over to other modes of activity, including cycling. An indispensable app for city walkers. $4.99  New York City Compass , designed by Francesco Bertelli, is an elegant compass calibrated for Manhattan, with indications for Uptown, East Side, Downtown, and West Side. While facing a cert

25 Things to Do Near the American Museum of Natural History

After visiting the American Museum of Natural History, explore attractions on the Upper West Side or in Central Park. Visitors to New York often run around from one major tourist site to the next, sometimes from one side of the city to the other, and in the process, exhaust themselves thoroughly. Ambitious itineraries often include something like coffee in the Village in the morning, lunch near MoMA, a couple of hours in the museum, a ride on the Staten Island Ferry in the afternoon, cocktails at the midtown hotel, a quick dinner, and then a Broadway show. It's a wonder people don't pass out at the theater. While sitting on the steps of the American Museum of History, consider exploring the Upper West Side and nearby sites of interest in Central Park. There's a better way to plan a New York trip. Consider grouping attractions together geographically. Several posts on this site address this recommended approach. The Wild West of the Tecumseh Playground Groupin

Museums in New York Open on Tuesdays

American Folk Art Museum , 45 W. 53rd St. Asia Society and Museum , 725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street) Guggenheim Museum , 1071 Fifth Avenue (at 89th St.) Pictured left International Center of Photography , 1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street The Metropolitan Museum of Art , 1000 Fifth Avenue NEW: Beginning May 1, 2013 MoMA will be open seven days a week. 11 W. 53rd St. The Morgan Library & Museum , 225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street Museum of the City of New York , 1220 Fifth Avenue New York University, Grey Art Gallery , 100 Washington Square East Mondays and Tuesdays are the hardest days to remember which museums are open. See the list for NY museums open on Mondays here .

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk. One such essay, " Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer , Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the

10 Short Walks from Grand Central Terminal

(updated March 2017) Famously crowded Grand Central Terminal functions as a major crossroads for the city, hosting busy commuters as they come and go from the suburbs via the Metro-North Railroad or within the city via a few subway lines, but the terminal also happens to be a good place to launch short walks. With its south side fronting E. 42nd Street and its massive structure interrupting Park Avenue, Grand Central provides quick access to many of the city's most well-known attractions. The New York Public Library and Bryant Park are only a couple of blocks away from the terminal, a quick jaunt on 42nd Street. And from there, Times Square is just another block or two farther west of the library, its neon shimmering in the distance. One wonders, standing near the intersection of 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, how many souls have been lured away from their well-meaning library studies by the beckoning lights of the Theater District. Grand Central Terminal : Before setting

25 Radical Things to Do in Greenwich Village

A list of 25 things to Do in Greenwich Village with history of protest, old cafes, and signs of change. Hipstamatic iPhone images of contemporary Greenwich Village by Walking Off the Big Apple (Revised and updated.) Flipping through  Greenwich Village: A Photographic Guide by Edmund T. Delaney and Charles Lockwood with photographs by George Roos, a second, revised edition published in 1976, it’s easy to compare the black and white images with the look of today’s neighborhood and see how much the Village has changed. A long shot photograph of Washington Square taken up high from an apartment north of the park, and with the looming two towers of the World Trade Center off to the distant south in the background, reveals a different landscape than what we would encounter today.    On the north side of the park, an empty lot and two small buildings have since given way to NYU’s Kimmel Center and a new NYU Center for Academic and Spiritual Center Life. The Judson Memorial Church