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New York State Theater No. 9 - The Plaza

Photo by Lauryn Johnson, 2023

“Subsequently, Johnson was asked to develop a plan for the plaza pavement pattern. He proposed a series of concentric circles with spokes of travertine and a dark aggregate in the intervening spaces. The panel of architects then recommended that the central feature of the plaza be a fountain, which Johnson designed." [1]

“Johnson delivered what was then and remains one of the most pleasing public spaces in the city, with spokes and concentric circles of travertine emanating from a dancing central fountain. With its broad granite ledge at perfect sitting height, it became a favored meeting point for generations of visitors to the center.” [2]


Hilary Lewis: "When we look at it, we certainly see Michelangelo's Campidoglio."

Philip Johnson: "Of course, it's quite obvious.” [3]

This refers to the Piazza del Campidoglio on the top of Capitoline Hill in Rome. In 1546, Michelangelo produced the oval design for the piazza that included complex spiraling pavement with a twelve-pointed star at its center.

(left) Johnson's plaza

(right) Michelangelo's Piazza del Campidoglio


Focal Point: Plaza on the Poster

Robert Indiana's poster design, 1964

"The largest gift donated to the construction of Lincoln Center was a grant of $1 million dollars from the Albert A. List Foundation. Half of the grant was designated for the purchase of works of sculpture or painting and $100,000 was set aside to commission art posters [...] for the celebration of the opening of each building and of each festival series of artistic presentations." [1]

Artist Robert Indiana was chosen to create the poster for the opening of the NY State Theater. In an article that appeared in the program for the opening of the theater, Indiana wrote, "The memories were strong when I went back to the construction site to gather ideas for the painting that would become the poster. In the half-completed Lincoln Center Plaza, which those few years before was a dark jumble of untidy backyards where an indefinable number of cats used to prowl and how on the fire escapes and under the trees of heaven, were the beginnings of Johnson's fountain: the very hub of Lincoln Center and the core for my poster which sprang into design from its radiating spokes and concentric wheels of travertine and mosaic. I could neither find nor invent a more appropriate motif for center since it is the one most conspicuous configuration about, being as it is in full view of not only the State Theater, but also Philharmonic Hall and the Metropolitan Opera House.

Robert Indiana with his poster

"To complete the design I turned back to the Theater itself. The auditorium was already a dark red and gilders were hard at work on the gold of the ring faces and the vast ceiling of the Promenade; thus the key colors of red and yellow, a fortuitous combination in that I use them frequently. From the architectural pattern set up by the thin vertical bronze struts of the upper Promenade decks I found the basis for the seven red bars and thin yellow stripes. The yellow discs which contain the separate stenciled letters are meant to suggest the round diamond-faceted lights that punctuate and adorn those spaces, but also not inadvertently, to recall the theatrical tradition of footlights and the flashing Broadway marquee, here, alas, tastefully absent in the Euclidian calm of the performing arts' new Acropolis." [4]

[2] The Man in the Glass House by Mark Lamster [3] Philip Johnson: The Architect in His Own Words by Hilary Lewis and Philip Johnson

[4] Robert Indiana in the Opening Night Program for the New York State Theater, 1964.

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