Office of General Services

New York State Office of General Services

Labyrinth by François Stahly
Returns to the Empire State Plaza











Join Us for a Reinstallation Celebration

Date: Tuesday, October 24
Time: 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.
Location: By the Labyrinth - Outdoors at the Plaza, Madison Avenue End.

In the event of inclement weather, the ceremony will be held inside the Corning Tower at the Plaza Level.

Featuring African Drumming by Chief Baba Neil Clarke, and
Traditional African Folklore of the Iroko Wood by The Reverend Blessed Unami Sikhosana

Chief Baba Neil Clarke is a Brooklyn-based, internationally recognized percussionist. Clarke was installed as a chief in Nigeria and is a student of the Orisa traditions, its music, culture, and philosophies. He has been involved in African drumming traditions for more than 50 years.

The Reverend Blessed Unami Sikhosana comes from Zimbabwe and is considered a true daughter and princess of the soil of the motherland of Africa. The highlights of her storytelling will include a folktale about the iroko tree.

About the Artist

During the construction of the Empire State Plaza (1965-1978), Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller established a Commission for the recommendation and purchase of art for permanent view in the Plaza’s expansive indoor and outdoor spaces. The Commission specified that all objects in the Empire State Plaza Art Collection be by artists based in New York. François Stahly was the only exception to this mandate. Governor Rockefeller, one of Stahly’s greatest patrons, personally recommended him, and Labyrinth was included in the Plaza Art Collection.

François Stahly (1911-2006) was born in Germany and attended art school in Zurich in 1926. Stahly later moved to Paris in 1931, becoming a French citizen. Following World War II, Stahly experimented with sculptural environments and explored connections between art and architecture. In 1950, he created works in Brussels, Vienna, and Berlin; and Connecticut and Tokyo in 1951. He also won several awards, including at the Milan Triennial (1953) and the São Paulo Biennial (1957). During the next few years, Stahly spent time in America, lecturing at universities and working on commissions, including at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.

About the Sculpture

Labyrinth (1970-71) is a sculpture made of iroko timber (a hardwood from the west coast of Africa) joined with metal fasteners. The site-specific work, placed by the artist, was installed on 1/3 acre of the Empire State Plaza’s southeast corner.

Labyrinth is a one-of-a-kind object with each piece of wood hand-crafted, numbered by the artist, and designed to fit together like pieces of a puzzle. The sculpture’s rounded edges and totem-like tower suggest a primitive form of architecture and stand in contrast to the steel and stone buildings that surround it.

In Labyrinth, Stahly aimed to create a sanctuary for the Empire State Plaza’s workforce by constructing “a quiet place in the midst of stress.” This idea also reaffirmed Rockefeller’s belief that the everyday presence of art increases a person’s quality of life – one of the main reasons why art was chosen to be displayed throughout the Empire State Plaza.

Deterioration

Despite the natural decay resistance of the wood, several of the pieces formed large areas of decay along the fasteners, which caused some of the framed structures to become unstable. Over the years, the cycle of heat, rain, ice, and wind infiltrated the deteriorated sections of wood, rendering it compromised.

Restoration

In 2015, the New York State Office of General Services removed the damaged wood pieces and shipped them to an architectural and wood conservator in Shelburne, Vermont.

Repairs were made to the decayed pieces using the same kind of timber as the original. However, rather than replacing an entire piece of wood, small sections within the original pieces were rebuilt. This allowed the conservator to retain the original grain patterns and patina that existed after Stahly’s original hand work.

In all, 30 sculpture assemblies were treated, consisting of about 230 individual wood pieces, weighing a total of 95,000 pounds.

Labyrinth Returns

The repaired Labyrinth was returned to the Empire State Plaza beginning in July 2017. The Office of General Services meticulously re-assembled the conserved Labyrinth wood pieces following the original installation design by François Stahly.

Now complete, Labyrinth is once again a place for people to reflect and enjoy a moment of peace amid the everyday bustle at the Empire State Plaza.

Labyrinth restored and re-installed, October 2017
Detail drawing of Labyrinth by François Stahly
A detailed drawing of the custom metal fasteners designed by Stahly to join and structurally support Labyrinth
A closer look at Labyrinth and the hand-carved, rough-hewn texture of the wood
Employees taking a break on Labyrinth, May 20, 1975
The Office of General Services disassembled Labyrinth in preparation for restoration, 2015
Details of the wood decay surrounding the metal fasteners, 2015
Details of the wood decay surrounding the metal fasteners, 2015
A piece of Labyrinth before restoration
A piece of Labyrinth after restoration. A section of new iroko wood, lighter in color, was inserted in place of the decaying wood.
A pre-construction model of Labyrinth.
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