This sculpture by George Segal (1924-2000) honors the gay rights movement and commemorates the uprising which took place at the Stonewall Inn opposite this park in Sheridan Square in 1969.
The Stonewall Inn at 51-53 Christopher Street was built as two stables during the 1840s. In 1930 these were combined into one building that housed Bonnie's Stone Wall teahouse, and later the Stonewall Inn Restaurant. In 1967 the establishment was converted to an unlicensed private club also called the Stonewall Inn - a bar and dance hall which catered to the vibrant gay community of Greenwich Village.
In the early hours of June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn and a fight broke out in which 13 people were arrested. The patrons and a growing crowd refused to disperse and clashed with police reinforcements. Word of the raid and uprising spread, and the next day hundreds gathered to protest the crackdown and advocate for the legalization of gay bars. Further protests erupted in early July, and on July 27 a group of activists organized the first gay and lesbian march from Washington Square to the Stonewall. The events of that summer are often cited as the beginning of the gay rights movement in the United States.
In 1979, arts patron Peter Putnam (1927-1987) commissioned the Gay Liberation Monument.
Segal, though not the first artist approached, accepted the commission, which stipulated only that the work "had to be loving and caring, and show the affection that is the hallmark of gay people . . . and it had to have equal representation of men and women."
Segal was one of the most important and influential American artists in the late 20th century. Born and raised in New York City, he settled in 1940 on a farm in South Brunswick, New Jersey where he lived and worked until his death. His work is in more than 65 public collections. Some of his better known pieces are The Commuters (1982) in New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal, The Holocaust (1984) in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, and his tableaux for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, DC. (1995).
Segal's composition for Gay Liberation consists of two standing males and two seated females positioned on the northern boundary of the park, in naturalistic poses. Using a process typical of his work, Segal made bronze casts from plaster molds of human models, and included metal replicas of standard park benches. The effect is realistic yet enigmatic, as he tempered the cast surfaces with an unearthly white painted finish.
The project was approved by the City in 1982, but the installation was delayed a decade because of public opposition, a
planned park renovation, and the death of a sponsor. On June 23rd, Mayor David Dinkins and Parks Commissioner Betsy Gottbaum dedicated the monument.
In the intervening decade the opposition and rancor which had greeted the project had subsided. The AIDS epidemic, which had devastated the gay community, added to the impact of its mute figures. In March 2000, for their role in the gay rights movement, the Stonewall Inn and Christopher Park were designated a National Historic Landmark, and Segal's sculpture has become a popular pilgrimage site.