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“If the artist had attempted to stage a living room set around the Lincoln Memorial or the Martin Luther King memorial … sensitivities would have been aroused,” he added. “It’s buffoonery masquerading as art.”

Nicholas Baume, director and chief curator of the Public Art Fund, said he believed people’s response to the piece will be different once they see it.

“What Nishi’s work is all about is drawing attention and giving access to the public to urban monuments, statues and architectural details that they wouldn’t normally have access to and to present it in a new way that gives it a contemporary relevance and opens our eyes to something that is perhaps overlooked,” he said.

“So I think far from disrespecting the Columbus Monument, it will eventually raise the awareness of the monument in leaps and bounds,” while giving the public an up-close view of “this quite majestic, carved, marble 19th-century sculpture,” Baume added.

In response to criticism that the installation lacked any educational component, he said: “This is not a history project. It’s important to understand that it’s a contemporary art project, this artist’s vision.”

The city is providing $1 million for the conservation of the monument _ a restoration project that will make use of the scaffolding around the privately funded installation.

“`Discovering Columbus’ will give people from all over the world the opportunity to come face-to-face with a majestic work of art normally seen from afar while allowing for the restoration of the Columbus Monument,” said Frank Fusaro, president of the Columbus Citizens Foundation, which in 1987 raised $400,000 toward the renovation of the monument.

Said John Calvelli, secretary of the National Italian American Foundation, “It opens up an opportunity to have a dialogue about the role of Christopher Columbus.”

“Discovering Columbus” is Nishi’s first public art project in the United States. He’s internationally known for transforming historical monuments by surrounding them with domestic spaces. His other works include “Villa Victoria,” a temporary functioning hotel around a statue of Queen Victoria for the 2002 Liverpool Biennial.

Visitors will be required to reserve passes in advance to climb to the living room.