One of the highlights of this summer’s public art offerings — particularly set, as it is, against so-so sculptures by John Chamberlain and mediocre ones by Niki de Saint Phalle just across Park Avenue — stands conspicuously in the courtyard of one of Midtown’s midcentury modern landmarks, Lever House. The Bruce High Quality Foundation’s “The New Colossus” (2012), part of the collective’s exhibition “Art History With Labor” (through September 28), is a full-scale bronze replica of the inflatable rat union members often position outside construction sites where non-union workers are being employed.
Stationed amidst pristine steel and glass architecture, its bulbous physicality and cryptic pose — part zombie, part “Godzilla” circa 1954 — are comically anachronistic. Likewise, the fact of it being a giant sculpture of a rat is irresistibly perverse, especially in light of the plush outdoor bar whose terrace full of happy hour office workers “The New Colossus” lords over every evening.
Still, there’s something distinctly toothless about this big bronze rodent, despite its self-evident toothiness. Its material transformation from a cheap and noisy generator-powered symbol of class conflict into a gleaming monument for a Manhattan office building makes it more tongue-in-cheek ironic than incendiary or subversive.