A mysterious message in stone rises on NYC’s Park Avenue

At Park Avenue NYC 12
One of five stones that make up Morpho’s Nest in the Cadmium House, in front of the Seagram Building at Park Avenue and 52nd Street. Photo by Ramon Masip.

Something curious has sprouted up on Park Avenue in New York City – five monoliths guarding the median from 52nd to 56th streets, carved and painted in primal red and blue with shapes that are at once ancient and modern, as if installed by cosmic aliens who dropped by to leave a cryptic message in stone.

The monoliths make up a work of art titled Morpho’s Nest in the Cadmium House by Lluís Lleó, a native of Spain who has been living and working in New York for the last 28 years. Made from quarried sandstone, each one stands about 13 feet tall and weighs 6,600 pounds. The artist carved and painted the stones after a 700-year-old technique practiced in the Catalonia region of Spain, where he grew up.

The mysterious title for the installation derives in part from the Morpho butterfly – in Greek, “morpho” is an epithet applied to Aphrodite and Venus meaning, roughly, “shapely one.” The other part of the title is a conceptual construct of the artist.

“These stones are on the one hand a refuge and on the other a protection of fragility, delicate and fleeting,” Lleó says. “It is a place where all our dreams can rest: the hope that the art of painting will not die; and the hope that the art which leaves my studio will be soaked in rainwater and left to dry in the sun, to have the spring breeze blow gently on it. The ‘cadmium house’ is that pure place one dreams to find in life.”

The stones, set on the south ends of median strips, are painted blue on their south faces and red on the north. Driving or walking south, you see red; heading north you see blue. The southernmost stone, at Park Avenue and 52nd Street, stands across the northbound lanes from the Seagram Building, whose exterior was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and who embraced the philosophy that structure is spiritual.

The installation was a collaboration of NYC’s Art in the Parks program and the Sculpture Committee of the Fund for Park Avenue. The work can be viewed through July.

Slide show: From Catalonia to Park Avenue.

Video: The artist surveys the completed installation.