BY MARK HALLUM | Without permission from the city, artist Joseph Reginella recently placed a bronze statue featuring three wolves attacking a helpless New York City tourist in Manhattan’s Battery Park.
Since he began putting up his sculptures four years ago, Reginella has been called “the Banksy of monuments” by the New York Times. But it’s not just art he creates, he goes the extra mile by building a fake history behind each piece.
This year, his historical fiction takes a page from an interview with former Mayor Ed Koch, who joked once about releasing wolves into train yards to discourage vandalism of subway cars.
Building on this urban legend, Reginella’s statue warns tourists to avoid parks at night as the progeny of Koch’s wolves still stalk for prey.
Each monument has required the combined effort of around 7 to 10 people over the course of about 6 to 9 months. The cost of raw materials comes out of pocket.
The first statue appeared four years ago.
It was of a giant squid engulfing an entire ferry and paying homage to a made up disaster. The idea came to him on the spot while riding the ferry with his nephew, who asked about sea monsters.
“These sculptures, not even putting the time and labor into it… is easily about five to six grand,” Reginella said. “This is the fourth.”
Unofficially, Reginella has been sculpting since the age of 14, but has been a professional freelancer for scenery companies since the 1990s and even had his own toy company in which he made figurines.
It was not until his most recent exploits in public art that he earned the the New York Times appellation, “the Banksy of monuments.”
Although the installations do not come with the permission – or commission – of the city, Reginella says the government lets his work slide on account of the fact that the statues do not immediately stand out in style compared to other park monuments.
Reginella creates a website for each piece, but has recently created a one-stop-shop for all his work.
He is not the first and likely not the last of his kind.
Sculptors have a history of statements in New York City neighborhoods before, with one notable park installation at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City in 2016.
Artist Bryan Zanisnik used the park’s open studio to place rows upon rows of plaster cast busts of Christopher Walken, who came up in the neighborhood.
In March 2017, the Fearless Girl statue was commissioned by State Street Global Advisors and made by artist Kristen Visbal before being placed in front of the Charging Bull statue in Bowling Green. It proved controversial to Trump supporters who dressed the statue in Make America Great Again apparel, as well as the Charging Bull originator Di Modica, who claimed the Fearless Girl distorted the message of his work.
Public art commissioned by the city is not immune from scrutiny.
In November 2016, The Sunbather was installed on Jackson Avenue in Long Island City and many people in the community spoke out against the blobby, lanky, humanoid figure as being ugly. Calls for the city to give up on the installation came long before the pink statue could go up.