Group of Four Trees, 1969-72

Jean Dubuffet

The Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza, off Pine Street, between Nassau and William Streets.

Group of Four Trees 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 [1]. 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 [2]. Dubuffet 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 [3].

Group of Four Trees is part of a large group of pieces that Dubuffet called "L'Hourloupe." In describing the meaning of this invented term, Dubuffet explained that the word implies "some wonderland or grotesque object or creature," and that it "evoke[s] something rumbling and threatening with tragic overtones" [4]. He went on to describe the pieces of L'Hourloupe as "the figuration of a world other than our own, or... parallel to ours..." [5]. Rather than defining the pieces as sculptures, Dubuffet called them "drawings which extend and expand in space" [6].

At the unveiling of Group of Four Trees in 1972, Dubuffet expressed pleasure at the location of his sculpture. He explained, "I do not believe that these four trees, which I hope will not be taken as representations of real trees, but as semblances of the thrust and fertility of human thought, bear contradiction in any way to the site upon which they now stand.... They give an impression of feverish intoxication. But they seem to me, by this same febrility, to manifest the ardent source of the enormous intellectual machinery of which this plaza is the core" [7].

Possible discussion themes
What are the relationships between public art and architecture?
How does the presence of public art works affect the way that a passerby views a building? How do buildings or other surroundings affect the way that a passerby views public art?

How can images of nature fit into an urban setting?
Dubuffet's trees are far from realistic, and yet add something that might be considered organic in feeling to the plaza in front of the tall, square, impersonal Chase Manhattan Bank building. On the other hand, it is black and white, made of plastic—almost as far from organic material as possible.

Related art works
Sunken Garden.
Both Group of Four Trees and Sunken Garden are playing off of the same space, and the same architecture. They both involve placing images or elements or reminders of nature in an urban setting.

Red Cube.
Just a block away from Chase plaza, Red Cube is another sculpture that can be looked at in comparison to the nearby architecture. Isamu Noguchi, who sculpted Red Cube, was interested in the ways in which sculpture and architecture interact, and how public spaces can be designed and sculpted.


  1. Franzke, A. (1981). [Title TK]. Translated by Wolf, R. E. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. p. 206.
  2. Franzke, p. 206.
  3. Franzke, p. 206.
  4. Dubuffet, J. (1972). Remarks on the unveiling of the Group of Four Trees. In Dubuffet, J. (1988). Asphyxiating culture and other writings. New York.: Four Walls Eight Windows. p. 115-116.
  5. Dubuffet, p. 116.
  6. Dubuffet, p. 117.
  7. Dubuffet, p. 117-118.

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