Group of Four Trees (1969-72 ) by artist Jean Dubuffet is a black and white sculpture standing just in front of the black and white Chase Manhattan Bank building. The similarities between the sculpture and building, however, stop there.
The building’s straight lines and evenly-spaced rows of windows stand in contrast to the irregular surfaces of Group of Four Trees. The forms of the trees are made up of a series of varying planes, all white, and connected together by thick black outlines. The trees’ canopies lean in different directions, and the heights of the four trees are all different, making the viewer’s eye move all around the sculpture, following the many lines that are present.
The trees manage to look both big and small at the same time. Although almost dwarfed by the surrounding buildings, Group of Four Trees in turn stands high above the people who walk by. Because of the unusual shapes of the trees, and the lack of natural color, the trees seem not quite organic. They do, however, add dynamic movement to the plaza.
In 1969, David Rockefeller, then chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, asked Jean Dubuffet to design models for a possible sculpture to be placed in front of the bank’s new building. Already, the building’s plaza included Isamu Noguchi’s Sunken Garden, completed in 1964, and the bank’s leaders wanted to add another sculpture as well.
Dubuffet submitted a number of models, of which Group of Four Trees was chosen. He then enlarged the piece for placement in the plaza. The sculpture is made of synthetic plastic over an aluminum frame, with a steel armature holding the whole piece together.
Group of Four Trees is located in the Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza, off Pine Street, between Nassau and William Streets, in NYC’s Financial District.