What’s Up With Those Park Avenue Sculptures of Men Missing Body Parts?

Between 34th Street and 38th Street along Manhattan’s Park Avenue, several cast-bronze figurative sculptures are nested in the leafy malls between crosswalks, looking as bizarrely unconcerned about their missing body parts and hollow stature as they are about their heavy baggage. In a devastatingly hyper-literal interpretation of loss that appears to be made with the eraser tool on Microsoft Paint, the French-Sicilian artist Bruno Catalano’s nine Travelers will remain installed in Murray Hill until May 2025 as the third-ever installation orchestrated by the Patrons of Park Avenue.

Just south of Grand Central Station and saddled with hand luggage, Catalano’s Travelers put forth a heavy-handed message about immigration and its rupturing impacts on identity, purpose, and connections with the world. Catalano himself migrated from Morocco to France as a child, evidently reflecting on his and his family’s experiences of leaving things behind while navigating forward. Each of the bronze voyagers is on an unspecified journey with the prospect of accepting the unknown etched onto their faces.

While some of the individual sculptures are inspired by real people (“Van Gogh II,” for instance, or “Benoît,” modeled after a friend of the artist), none of that information is available at face value, so the installation just looks like a bunch of guys with bags — each as nondescript as the last, like generic models featured in a mid-2000s language textbook. The “erased” swipes across their bodies are meant to be read as an exaggerated Surrealist fragmentation of identity, but are instead comical in their gimmicky, over-the-top literalism, neglecting culture and personality in favor of a vagueness that’s meant to invite projection.

One could argue that that’s precisely the point, as many people of the diaspora keep their heads down and their struggles private, going to lengths not to stick out while adjusting to their new terrain. But if we’re talking about projection, I don’t see even a shred of my father, a person who has moved over 30 times across three continents throughout his life, in any of these nondescript men in slacks and sneakers. (On that note, I’d probably be singing a much different tune if just one of them was clad in unfortunately familiar neon yellow spandex sportswear, or a belt that may or may not be a luggage strap, but I digress …) The Park Avenue installation doesn’t even feature any of Catalano’s sculptures of the women and children from his broader Travelers series. How am I supposed to empathize with my immigrant mom when every sculpture is the epitome of Just Some Guy?

Though positioning the sculptures as arrivals or departures from the train station is no-brainer, Catalano’s Travelers aren’t the easiest to access, let alone appreciate, as they stand on the narrow botanical strips that divide the crosswalk along the avenue. At most, I witnessed a single person stop to take a photo of the sculpture at the 36th Street crosswalk whereas everyone else couldn’t be bothered to take a second glance. There’s neither much time to be spent as the crosswalk timer ticks down from 20 seconds, nor do the sculptures necessarily stand out despite towering in height, as their neutral tones and matte finishes are washed out by the plant life behind them.

Anyone can scan the available QR codes accompanying each sculpture to learn what I recited above, but I can’t imagine that many yuppies on a mission, tourists tripped up by Google Maps, or parents with strollers will have much inclination to do so.

I suppose it’s pretty remarkable that Catalano can aggressively hammer the point while simultaneously missing the mark with this installation. The nuances of cultural and personal loss amid one of life’s greatest transitions cannot be conveyed through an overzealous deletion of body parts.

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