The 18-foot bronze statue was erected last September by Michael Rosen, a developer and a former social anthropologist at New York University. A capitalist with a Marxian understanding of power, Rosen named the development, which was started in 1989, "Red Square", because, he said, "It was sort of reddish and squarish." How better, then, to advertise your property in a depressed market and make mischief than to introduce the Bolshevik leader and founder of the Communist Party?
"I wanted to do something fun, to catch people's eyes and intrigue their imagination," says Rosen. "As the Soviet Union was coming apart, it came to me that Lenin and the changes wrought in his name should remain a vital element of our past, and that to see him as an anachronism who had had his day would be a crucial error."
"It was not meant to be a political statement,'' adds Michael Shoaul, the building manager and a graduate of Manchester University's faculty of sociology, ``but we were aware that he looks over the Lower East Side and points to Wall Street. This is one of New York's poorest neighbourhoods, and whatever working-class labour movement there was, it took place here in the Twenties."
The sculpture itself had been commissioned for a square in Moscow shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. Out of favour - and with his sculptor, Peter Cerasimov, a former tombstone carver, unpaid - Lenin lay forlornly in a tomato field before being discovered and transported via Chechnya to the US by Walterk, Ursitti and McGuinness, a company of SoHo art dealers. "Rosen wanted a small bust for the lobby," says Chris Ursitti, who specialises in helping Russian artists find exposure in the West. "So we brought it back to New York, hoping he would take a chance on it."
Rosen did, and the $15,000 bronze Lenin has come to be fondly regarded in the hedonistic utopia beneath him. The apartments in the fashionable building command Upper East Side rents, and they boast one supermodel, a lot of music industry people (including Warren Hayes of the Allman Brothers), a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, a video store and a rental office secretary with the word "Pussy" shaved on the back of her platinum hairdo.
The whole neighbourhood, indeed, is an outstanding example of the success of deregulation and free market forces. Hispanic heroin dealers and the homeless work the street corners, and Lucky Chang's, a Chinese restaurant staffed by Asian transvestites more perfect than woman born could be, has become a favourite for visitors from the suburbs, who come in to Manhattan at the weekend to get drunk, wake the locals, and set fire to the bins.
The addition of Lenin to the New York skyline reckoned by one critic to be the first statue of political importance to be erected in the city in the past 50 years, but it's not the only one: a section of the Berlin Wall stands in a public garden on 57th Street, while Mahatma Gandhi observes the comings and goings on 14th Street.
"We thought of putting Marx up," says Shaoul, ``but he's more intellectual than political, and in any case people don't know what he looked like. Even when we had Lenin lying on the pavement, many people didn't know who he was..."
Is there anyone they think might keep VI Lenin company? "We joked about having Ronald Reagan, but now that he has Alzheimer's disease, it would be seen to be poor taste."