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    Duke Ellington Memorial Dedicated in Harlem  
     
 
Sculptor
Robert Graham
 
Duke Ellington Memorial
 
The sculpture after unveiling
 
In a ceremony crowded with New York politicians and dotted with an artist or two, Robert Graham's Duke Ellington Memorial was unveiled on the northeast corner of Central Park on July 1, 1997. A pleasanter gathering could hardly have been imagined, as the Loren Schoenberg Big Band played selections from the Ellington repertoire, including Jack the Bear and Take the A Train, while dignitaries and residents of the Harlem neighborhood mingled in the noon-time sun. The gala celebration marked the first-ever New York City monument to a black artist, the first memorial in the U.S. to Ellington -- and the first New York public-art commission for Graham.

The Ellington project has been in the works since 1979, when the pianist Bobby Short conceived of the memorial and began raising the approximately $1 million in funds for it. Done in black patinated bronze, the 25-foot-tall memorial stands like a kind of guardian figure, facing outward at the uptown gateway to Central Park and Harlem at Fifth Avenue and 110th Street. The work features an eight-foot-tall sculpture of Ellington standing next to an open grand piano. The tableau is supported by three 10-foot-tall minimalist columns, atop of which stand a total of nine nude caryatid figures representing the muses. It is centered within the Duke Ellington Circle, two semicircular plazas that are gently stepped to form an amphitheater suitable for performances.

Graham (b. 1938), who lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Angelica Huston, is one of the great makers of public art. His 1986 Memorial to Joe Louis in Detroit -- a huge clenched fist and arm, suspended from a tripod -- is a magnificent emblem of Louis' prowess in the ring as well as a symbol of black power. Los Angeles boasts Graham's 1984 Olympic Gateway, a severely modern pair of athletic torsos representing the sports ideal. Washington, D.C., too, has an important Graham work in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, dedicated earlier this year. This sculpture depicts Depression-era social programs and is done in low relief. Graham's unique conception encourages visitors to the memorial to take clay impressions of segments of the wall -- clay is sold for this purpose at the memorial gift shop.

A model for the memorial is also on view at Gagosian Gallery at 980 Madison.

[for more pictures click here]