May 2007

Two modern sculpture gardens face other on either sides of the National Mall in Washington DC, the Hirschhorn Sculpture Garden and the National Gallery Sculpture Garden, both offset by the under-appreciated National Archives and the highfalutin Hirshhorn Museum. In the National, David Smith, Joan Miro, a stable Calder, a macho Mark di Suvero, and annoying optical illusion by Lichtenstein, and a dozen others.

Typewriter Eraser, Scale X (above) by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen from 1999, in the DC context, is the most fun. Made in 1999, to the average Washingtonian it is almost an abstract image of a red wheel with with blue stalky hair. I asked a nearby pre-adolescent to identify the subject – just baffled. He wasn’t certain what a typewriter is, less this item of ridiculous scale. But in context, across the street from the National Archives, they might still use these things, and perhaps at a ridiculous scale.

Not exactly a forgotten artwork, but a quickly forgotten joke. There are spaces available for future works in this garden – perhaps Oldenburg and van Bruggen could update with a giant delete key with Karl Rove’s fingerprint on it.

If you want to skip to the good stuff, DC Memorial and Monuments seems a comprehensive catalog of outdoor artworks in the District. DbKing has created a great Flickr collection of DC sculptural art – many with helpful side comments – and a great tour of the Adams Morgan District.

In 1873 successful Philadelphia sculptor and craftsman Joseph Bailly created a stern bronze of John Rawlins, aid de camp to Ulysses S Grant and his Secretary of War.

Born in France in 1825, Bailly also was creator of a royal Franklin for the interior of the Philadelphia Public Ledger Building (seen at right), an elegant George Washington, located outside the Philadelphia City Hall, and a very large bronze of John Witherspoon, also in Philadelphia.

Like Grant, Rawlins organized an infantry to join the War Between the States, and found a place at Grant’s side through thick and thin, becoming a trusted and firm adviser during Grant’s dark days of drinking. Later when traveling to dry climates to stave off tuberculous, Rawlins founded the city of Rawlins, Wyoming (below, circa 1960).

The Rawlins sculpture above is both formal and slightly surreal, on a high granite pedestal overlooking a rectangular pond in Rawlins Park on E and 18th Streets NW. Cast from a cannon Rawlins captured, the artwork shows his heavy uniform; holding field glasses and a walking stick, a wet wild beard (look at that beard!), a potent correct posture, his high wide gaze.

At the west end of the Mall are two (at least two) underestimated artworks, overwhelmed by their context and proximity to greatness. In my opinion, Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial is the most important artwork of the 20th Century. Visiting is a transformative experience. simple, straightforward, accessible to visitors of all ages and cultures, a memorable scar. You see it first from afar and therefore choose to walk toward and into it, often amidst a queue of tourists. Two 246 foot long polished black granite walls point to the offset Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, creating a swirl of questions and conflicts as you enter. Try holding back tears as you read the names. What a loss, what a waste. In the center you stand back and suddenly see your own reflection offset by the thousands of names cut into the shiny black surface. The image of yourself, surrounded by tourists and ghosts lingers, and changes your mind.

More from Maya Lin – Confluence Project, and AIA 25 Year Award.

Glenna Goodacre, LTD created the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, sheltered in a grove of trees 60 yards from Maya Lin’s masterpiece, to help remember the 265,000 women who volunteered to serve in Vietnam. Goodacre, who designed the Sacajawea dollar coin, has a Portland connection. A copy of her full-size bronze of the guide for the Corps of Discovery, carrying Jean-Baptiste, is at Lewis & Clark College. It’s very nice.

Goodacre’s sculpture is potent: four giant figures at eye level, reachable, touchable. Instead of seeking guidance from Lin or honorable memorials on the Mall, Goodacre takes off in the panic of war: a black soldier is splayed out, half dead from a chest wound, his eyes bandaged, mouth open. He’s held up by sandbags and a desperate nurse holding down the wound. Another nurse watches the sky, waiting for the sound of helicopter rotors. A third crouches low, contemplating a damaged helmet.

The memorial is accessible, intriguing, emotional, powerful within it’s context of the panic of war, the danger, the grief. Tourists are drawn in, many leave flowers often set in the open hands of the figures.

At the opposite, southwest side of the National Mall is the Korean War Veteran’s Memorial hosting far fewer visitors, but welcoming them with perhaps the saddest, most succinct inscription on any memorial, remembering another pointless war. The components, only loosely tied together, include fountain, landscaping, architecture, sculpture, and several forms of inscription. The 19 figures on patrol are also rendered by committee, and by Vermont artist Frank Gaylord.

Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.

Wisconsin Korean Veteran’s Memorial
Oregon Korean Veteran’s Memorial
Montana Korean Veteran’s Memorial
Florida Korean Veteran’s Memorial
Kansas Korean Veteran’s Memorial
Texas Korean Veteran’s Memorial

Whoa I’m in Washington DC with free time which always means – get away from tourists and find forgotten artworks.

The Robert A Taft Memorial and carillon holds a acre of grass and mature elms, waiting patiently for a future 21st Century tenant. Literally across the street from the nation’s capital, and somewhat ironically also across a street from the Teamsters office, the Taft Memorial is a 100 foot x 32 foot bell tower at the center of the park, built of light tan marble and holds great bronze bells which ring the time. A dignified bronze of Republican Senator Taft (1889-1953) by realist / non-avant garde (and I think also a Republican) artist Wheeler Williams. His portrait is the right.

From the look of Taft’s hand, the sculpture is meant to hold a large cigar. Whether this was removed after the Cuban revolution, or whether a real cigar is stuffed into the hand on ceremonial occasions. Otherwise the oversize bronze figure is unremarkable, which is perhaps it’s essence.

Since all new memorial artworks – especially in DC – show the dramatic effect of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial, I had a fantasy about the future of the Taft memorial space; because ask an average 1000 Americans standing on an average streetcorner and exactly none of them can identify Robert A Taft Senator from Ohio three time presidential candidate and co-author of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. So it’s a fairly irrelevant historical space, waiting for a creative new explanation of US history. It’s never too soon to start thinking about the future, so I imagine this space as a memorial to George Bush 43, and again riffing on Maya Lin, I imagine the space as an unending construction zone symbolizing the infinite damage Bush has done to Congressional decision-making, a deep pit surrounded by plywood and razor wire, cameras and perhaps a “no photographs” copyright restriction, or a large “no trespassing” sign lit with bright alternating blue and white lights. Events could simultaneously celebrate Terry Southern (who I am certain would appreciate the connection) by filling the pit occasionally with urine and entrails of slaughtered animals, scattering cash in the filth and inviting K Streeters and congressmen to wallow and swim for it, broadcast on CSPAN and YouTube.

Ahh action is the antidote to despair. Who said that? Joan Baez.

  • Rites Of Spring – For Want Of – Live 1985 Old 9:30 Club

Planning to wander NYC seeking artwork? Visit Forgotten Delights, a compendium of photos and history of NYC representational public artwork.

This blog has been critical of the Regional Arts and Culture Council. But everyone interested in the how Portland’s public art connect with politics, with industry, with schools, with other communities, both nearby and far off, and in the business of the arts, ought to take a look at the elegant RACC 2006 Annual Report.

See – RACC 2006 Annual Report (6.7 MB PDF)

Beautiful pictures remembering arts events and people over the past year, lists of donors and grantees, board members, committee members, staff members, a budget summary, successes and challenges – this report sets an excellent example of how public arts bureaucracies stay relevant, transparent and engaged by sharing information with advocates, artists and admirers.

Good job folks.

CAN – or the Community Arts Network – is one of the more robust art nodes on the internet, with a variety of news and conversation covering the gamut of the arts in America. They’ve listed Portland Public Art as one of the ten blogs suggested for regular reading, describing this blog as “a spicy but anonymous blog from Oregon.”

Just really the nicest thing you could say about this blog. Thanks!

Other blogs listed by CAN include

The Ford family made their millions by clearcutting the forests of Southern Oregon, and their matriarch, 102 year old Hallie Ford, has been generous with her pillage with her support of the arts for decades.

See the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, an expensive private college.

She was a student of Carl Hall, who taught at Willamette for nearly forty years. Hall, seen here in plaid and in 1975, now lives in Chiloquin.

Ford just made a $15 million dollar gift to Pacific Northwest College of Art. Now we never speak ill of a major donor, but this gift raises more questions than it answers.

The Ford Family Foundation of Roseburg, has been a challenge for nonprofits for decades. The challenge goes like this, “Gee, it’s one of the biggest foundations in Oregon (with over half a billion in the bank, giving $17 million away in 2005), if we can just get something started in Southern Oregon they’ll give us a bunch. Is it worth it?”

A description of Ford’s gift by D K Row was published in the Oregonian this week.

Measured by the work made by its students and their impact outside of our small pond, PNCA is an expensive trade school for the children of the very wealthy or foolish. The impact of Ford’s gift may bring better models to speak and exemplify success, but it won’t be spent to teach students outside of the current demographic bubble. And I think this is the crux of the problem: mimics of the mainstream art market are silly and boring in the provinces. It’s heart and soul determination which make great art – not pretense and pose.

The bigger, more interesting question is, where will the rest of Ford’s money go, and who will manage it?

Judge Michael Marcus has ruled in favor of the City of Portland in the long awaited Clear Channel v Portland case. We’ll have background and opinion about this case soon, but thanks to Joanne Oleksiak of Portland Mural Defense, you can read the succinct ruling now, linked below.



Squib from Willamette Week:

Anybody know someone with a fetish for 3-foot-tall bronze women? If so, Portland Police want you to call them at 823-0097 and help them figure out who tried to rip off the 200-pound statue at the center of the Shemanski Fountain on the South Park Blocks near the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. In the early morning of April 25, a city Water Bureau worker found that someone had tried to yank the statue, titled “Rebecca at the Well,” off its base. “It was hanging by a thread,” says Keith Lachowicz of the Regional Arts and Culture Council, which is housing the wounded statue. The city is still estimating repair costs.

Use the comment box below and name the artist and where this Portland public artwork is located! Extra bonus points if you can tell about the sculptor’s disability. Check back for the answer tomorrow. Hint – Look up!

Oh man, this is an easy one. Think of a great phony American war, where politicians connived and yellow-dog journalists in cahoots. Or consider a Gay Bear! Well, I’m going to leave this one up for a bit, unanswered as of now. See if someone figures the answer out.

RACC Public Art Manager Kristin Calhoun will give a lecture about current public art projects in Portland at the Portland Art Museum.

The lecture is May 14, at 9:30 AM (how convenient!) There is a charge for non-members.

Calhoun was responsible for the process which slected a controversial public artwork for Portland’s downtown Chinatown, which was partially installed in December, and then partially “deaccessed” in February after local businesses and media curmudgeons complained about the artwork for a variety of reasons.

The artwork remains partially uninstalled with four (I think) final granite components parts still missing.

Someone needs to stand up and ask Calhoun when an accounting of what went wrong and why will happen, and when a financial accounting of the fouled project will be made available. In February, RACC director Eloise Damrosch, said, “At this point, we’re not ready to delve into who did what wrong and why. But we’ll look into it because we’d be irresponsible not to.”

So far – silence. When, Kristine? When, Eloise? Until then, skepticism.

READ MORE @ RACC Needs to Right a Wrong

Blogger – the host of this site – is a beautiful thing and it’s gremlins have upgraded the backend to allow content fools to splurg in an even-more idiot-proof environment.

So – Portland Public Art will be undergoing some changes over the next week.

Stay tuned.