NYC – Rockefeller Plaza: Electric Fountain and Prometheus
Deitch Projects
Image by wallyg
Co-produced by Deitch Projects and Art Production Fund, Electric Fountain is a spectacular public artwork by artists Tim Noble & Sue Webster situated in the heart of Rockefeller Center. The design and sequencing of the work, fabricated from 3,390 LED bulbs and 527 meters of neon tubing, replicates the movement of water, creating a hypnotic experience for viewers. Electric Fountain represents Noble & Webster’s modern take on the world’s oldest form of public art, the fountain. It simultaneously references iconic pop culture symbols, such as marquee signs in Las Vegas and Times Square, and historical fountains built in civic spaces, such as Bernini’s Tritin Fountain. A monument for the 21st Century, Electric Fountain, is a celebration of the spectacle, excess, beauty, and desire of contemporary culture and provocative comment on the nature of consumer society, a theme often present in Noble & Webster’s work.

Prometheus is the best known sculpture in Rockefeller Center. Created by famed American sculptor Paul Manship, it has stood against the Fountain West Wall on the Lower Plaza since being installed in January, 1934. Playful water jets splash around him and up onto the wall. Carved in the red granite wall is a quote from Greek dramatist Aeschylus, "Prometheus, Teacher in Every Art, Brought the Fire That Hath Proved to Mortals a Means to Mighty Ends."

The sculpture depicts Prometheus, a titan and brother of Atlas, carrying the fire he stole in a hollow stalk of fennel from the Chariot of the Sun, after Zeus denied it to the cold and shivering mortals. Prometheus is shown plummeting to earth with his right arm raised holding his prize, and his left hand reaching out to balance his descent. Since Zeus could not take the fire back because a god or goddess was forbidden to take away what another gave, he planned another form of punishment. For his hubris, Prometheus was carreid to Mount Caucasus, where an eagle by the name of Ethon would pick at his liver. Each day it would grow back and the eagle would eat at it again. The punishment was said to last 30,000 years, but twelve generations later Heracles, passing by on his way to find the apples of Hesperides as part of the Twelve Labours, freed Prometheus. Prometheus proceeded to catch the eagle and eat its liver. Since the freeing brought Zeus’ son great glory, instead of returning Prometheus to the mountain, he was given a ring which contained a piece of the rock to which he was bound, which he wore for eternity to satisfy the original enslavement. In Manship’s sculpture, the earth is represented by the huge mountain, the seas by the pool, and heavens by the zodiac ring.

Originally Prometheus was originally flanked by Manship’s heroic-sized 8-foot bronze Mankind Figures of Maiden and Youth–the recipients of the gift of fire. Manship never liked the sculptural arrangement, though, and the figures moved multiple times before settling to the top of the staircase above the Lower Plaza.

Rockefeller Center was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1985.

In 2007, Rockefeller Center was ranked #56 on the AIA 150 America’s Favorite Architecture list.

Rockefeller Center National Register #87002591

// From Flicker

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