Posted on May 13, 2021

This Monumental ‘Oracle’ Statue in NYC Subverts Traditional Sculpture

Nora McGreevy, Smithsonian Magazine, May 11, 2021

References to classical mythology abound in and around Rockefeller Center. An iconic Art Deco complex in New York City, the space boasts a gilded bronze sculpture of the Titan Prometheus, a 1930s relief of a fearsome Zeus that adorns the 30 Rockefeller Plaza entrance and a statue of an overburdened Atlas that looms over Fifth Avenue.

Through June 29, members of the public can visit (and eventually interact with) another monumental addition to the Manhattan landmark: artist Sanford Biggers’ Oracle, a 25-foot-tall, 15,280-pound bronze sculpture. Unveiled last week, the work depicts a person or deity with an enormous head who sits majestically on a throne in front of Rockefeller Center’s Fifth Avenue entrance.

Oracle is the latest entry in Biggers’ Chimera series, which merges European statues and African masks in an interrogation of sculptural art’s history and power, reports Sarah Cascone for Artnet News. The work is Biggers’ largest-scale Chimera commission to date, notes a statement from exhibition co-organizer Art Production Fund.

As Biggers tells Artnet News, he drew inspiration from the ancient Greek Temple of Zeus and African religious art, especially that of the Luba and Maasai cultures. Per the statement, the artist was also intrigued by ongoing scholarly conversations about the whitewashing of European sculptural history and “black-washing” of African sculpture. (In a separate statement from the Marianne Boesky Gallery, Biggers points out that Westerners stripped “hundreds of [African] objects … of all material adornment and any ritual and cultural residue” during the early 20th century.)

“The entire installation is based on mythology, narrative and mystery,” Biggers tells the Art Newspaper’s Gabriella Angeleti. {snip}

In the coming weeks, reports Artnet News, visitors will be able to activate a QR code near the sculpture and literally ask the “oracle” figure a question. They may then receive an answer from one of several unnamed celebrities, who will take turns answering queries with “mysterious, poetic vagaries,” Biggers adds.


Speaking with Artnet News, Biggers points out that references to the Atlantic Slave Trade appear throughout the Rockefeller complex’s intricate Art Deco designs, which were crafted in the mid-20th century.