Big Legs and the Janey Waney
The first time that I ever saw Legs, the Larry Rivers piece found on a private home in Sag Harbor, we’d passed it by chance on our way out to Montauk back in 2012.
While I was updating my list of Long Island Roadside Attractions this morning, Legs sprung to mind and I thought I would add it to the list as a sight to see.
If you’ve hung around this lil ole blog for any amount of time, the fact that I fall down weird informational rabbit holes won’t come as a surprise to you. They are often spurred on by something seen while out riding around. I guess you could say that today’s abyss is no different. What started as a simple motorcycle ride turned in to a voyage of discovery.
The Janey Waney Connection – Smith Haven Mall
Last summer, my daughter Chloe mentioned the big Legs and how they were once at our local mall as part of an art piece. Um, what’s this now? Firstly, the fact that she had this little tidbit of info in her back pocket was pretty interesting. Why would she have known that? Secondly, the weirdo apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And so thanks to Chloe, I found myself reading the Wikipedia page for the Smith Haven Mall. Rest assured, this is a phrase I never imagined typing, but it is where today’s post begins.
The mall is notable for the works of public art which it originally held, including one of the final works of noted sculptor Alexander Calder, a giant mobile Janey Waney which was made especially for the mall’s opening in 1969, and a 40-foot (12 m) mural by Larry Rivers. Calder’s piece, after being taken down in early 1970s, was refurbished and moved to the newly built food court in 1987, which was named Calder Court for the sculptor.Wikipedia
Okay, hold up.
Our crappy local mall once had an Alexander Calder standing mobile and a Calder-named food court in it?! Are you kidding me? The Calder Foundation website features this black and white photo showing the piece where it was installed:
Knowing all too well that the sculpture wasn’t in the mall in the 20+ years that I’ve lived on Long Island, I of course wondered – what happened to it? Where did Janey Waney go? I cracked my knuckles and began Googling.
I’m obviously not an expert on anything. What follows is just what I pieced together based on social media and articles online when trying to find where Janey Waney is today.
Looking for Janey Waney
…the Calder was removed from the central pool in 1972, according to Newsday, its moving parts packed away and soon lost. For years afterward, the base of the Calder sat outside in the parking lot, badly bent, its paint peeling.Our Towns; A Genuine Calder Was Here, at the Mall? (Psst, What’s a Calder?), David M. Halbfinger, New York Times, 2002
Can you imagine Janey Waney languishing and peeling in the parking lot of a shopping mall on Long Island? Oy.
After leaving Smith Haven Mall then where did it go?
Based on what I read, the sculpture was auctioned at Sotheby’s in 2001 for $1.76M. New York Times reporter Carol Vogel (2014) noted, the new owners David and Leslee Rogath, “had displayed “Janey Waney” in their garden before lending it to Gramercy Park.” So from 2001 to 2011, the piece was under the care of the Rogaths, apparently.
BARRY SCHLACHTUS, an optometrist in the Smith Haven Mall here, can correct your myopia and set you up with a nice pair of glasses. But he has no eye for art.
Mr. Schlachtus has worked at the Sterling Optical shop for about 10 years, taking his lunch break in the food court more often than not. But he had no idea why it was called the Calder Court. And he never looked twice at the brightly painted sheet-metal sculpture on three spindly legs that soared nearly 26 feet toward the skylight.
”I never thought that had any value at all,” said Mr. Schlachtus, told the contraption had recently been auctioned by Sotheby’s for $1,765,750.Our Towns; A Genuine Calder Was Here, at the Mall? (Psst, What’s a Calder?), David M. Halbfinger, New York Times, 2002
Janey Waney at Gramercy Park
For a time Janey Waney called Gramercy Park, the keyed-entry private park in New York City, its temporary home. An article from The Observer (2011), offers insight into how Janey Waney ended up in the park to begin with. It suggests that Calder’s grandson Sandy Rower was a driving force behind making it happen.
Mr. Rower bought a townhouse on Gramercy Park some years ago. “I’ve been enjoying the park and all of Arlene’s hard work and I would come through and see these little patches of lawn that seemed like they needed something in them. After a number of years I guess I became bold enough to suggest, ‘Why don’t we see if the park would be interested?’”
“This loan is for a year. And after a year it might stay a little longer…”Exclusive: Major Alexander Calder Sculpture Goes on View at Gramercy Park, Sarah Douglas, The Observer, 2011
The original term for the loan of Janey Waney was one year according to the quote by Sandy Rower. Another item I found from 2012, shows a request to Manhattan Community Board Six to extend its stay for another year. The fact that it stayed connected to Gramercy Park for a decade is interesting.
The work was in New York City from what appears to be 2011 to 2014 and then it did a bit of globetrotting. Janey Waney was on display at the Rijksmuseum in 2014 before returning back to New York. It left Gramercy Park to be shown in Paris in the Jardin des Tuileries in 2018-2019, then returned once again to Gramercy Park.
Janey Waney Rumblings Outside of the Park
The following quote was pulled from the NY Times in relation to the sculpture’s display in the Netherlands for the European Fine Art Fair:
Christophe van der Weghe, the New York dealer, organized the Calder’s installation here, although he declined to provide any details about its owner. But, this being the gossipy art world, other dealers familiar with Calder’s work said it belongs to David and Leslie Rogath, collectors from Greenwich, Conn., who had displayed “Janey Waney” in their garden before lending it to Gramercy Park. It is now for sale, several said, for about $20 million.After Stay in Gramercy Park, Calder Sculpture Pops Up in Maastricht, Carol Vogel, New York Times, 2014
And in the same year…
When the sculpture was shown at the European Fine Arts Fair, The New York Times’ Carol Vogel raised questions about the work’s owner. Vogel wrote that she heard whispers that David and Leslie Rogath owned the work, and that they were trying to sell it for $20 million. Calder Foundation President Alexander Rower told ARTnews today that those were false rumors, adding that the sculpture will remain in the park indefinitely and that the sculpture’s installation is “one of the [the foundation’s] great successes.Calder Sculpture Returns to Gramercy Park, Alex Greenberger, ARTNews.com, 2014
As an interesting side note, Janey Waney is so beloved that in 2016, this $14.5M real estate listing for 22 Gramercy Park South boasted a view of the work. You can see a glimpse of it in the window of the feature photo:
The residence is perfectly situated on Gramercy Park with a direct view of Alexander Calder’s 1969 monumental outdoor sculpture, Janey Waney.Elliman.com
While looking for information on social media, in my opinion there is a common sentiment about Janey Waney that seems prevalent, particularly by New Yorkers. People had a connection to the piece, using phrases like “my buddy”, “my Calder.” Over the years, catching a glimpse of it from outside of the Gramercy Park greenery and fencing was something of a touchstone for the public.
In a Facebook group call Hey Long Island… Do U Remember, posts about the Smith Haven Mall have many comments referencing Janey Waney, asking if others remember it. And they do. So while the previously quoted Mr. Schlachtus was aware of it but didn’t realize it had any value, others seem to suggest that if nothing else, it earned a place of nostalgic value in their memory book.
What’s Next for Janey Waney?
Looking at Instagram, this photo is from August 2021 – the caption took me by surprise:
From a video posted to Instagram in February of 2022, Janey Waney is indeed gone from Gramercy Park.
It appears that Janey Waney is on the move again. Not only did I miss it while it was in my local mall, but I also missed it while it was on view for a whole decade in Manhattan. I wonder where it is now and where it will turn up next? The piece is clearly well-loved so I hope it is publicly available once more.
As the owner of a piece whose value can be in the 10’s of millions of dollars, what is the feeling of putting something like that on display in the public? Someone once stole my halloween decorations off the lawn and I felt upset about that. Is there a sense of worry about vandalization for public artwork? Does the idea of some jerk with a Sharpie pen keep you up at night?
For me, Calder’s work in general holds a whimsical feeling that connects with child-like feelings of wonder and possibility. It is the stuff of day dreams, of seeing shapes in the clouds. The forms hold a happiness within them which is important in my life. Highbrow scholarly knowledge isn’t required for enjoyment, instead, the only requirement for appreciation is simply being willing to do it. No pretense necessary.
Hopefully, I’ll see you one day, Janey Waney!
I’m also trying to figure out the current location of Janey Waney. My wife and I spent a lot of time in that food court as teenagers, and we were really surprised when we accidentally stumbled upon it in Paris 20-something years later. I even have a tattoo based on it! If I find it, I’ll let you know!