This is a sculpture called Judith and Holofernes:
It moved around a few times after Donatello created it, sometime between 1455 and 1460. In 1495 it was placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, as a symbol of the freedom of Florence from the tyrrany of the Medici. But by 1504 it had been moved inside the courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio, and another sculpture took its place:
Not too shabby. You see, for the longest time the Italians were not afraid of moving their public art around, or retiring it and replacing it with something else. Sure, the pace of rotation and retirement may have slowed, now that sculptors aren't making pieces of the quality of The David, and now that Florence is almost exclusively a tourist town. All those visitors need to be able to find the attractions, after all.
But Hyde Park is not a tourist town. We're not pleasing anyone but ourselves with public art. We should feel free to retire and rotate.
Take the mural, Under City Stone, for example (on which I have previously ranted here). Jon Pounds of the Chicago Public Art Group (CPAG) is raising funds to refurbish it. The rubric used to judge the merit of murals, according to Pounds, is "connection with the community, historic importance, and impact on other muralists." But this neglects what I believe are the more important standards of aesthetic beauty, artistic training, and current fondness by the community. (The historic importance he refers to is the fact that Caryl Yasko was one of the founders of the outdoor mural movement.)
Here's the thing about murals, historic or not: they decompose. Paintings have to be inside buildings with a controlled climate to last for decades or centuries. Does Jon Pounds hope we'll refurbish Under City Stone every 35 years ad infinitum? I'd be in favor of letting someone else have a shot at it right now. That would be more in the spirit of the "outdoor art" movement, anyway.
If anyone is feeling sentimental about these installations, maybe the Hyde Park Historical Society and the CPAG can be persuaded to document them in photographs and paperwork, and display them in a small exhibit.
Another of our eyesores, the sculpture called Orisha Wall (1986) on the 55th Street median, was especially fragile to the elements and started deteriorating immediately after it was installed. By 1992 it was already listed in the category "treatment urgent" by a committee called Save Outdoor Sculpture. And here's why: the darned thing is made of glazed, kiln-fired tiles, attached to a concrete base with tile wall cement, and then grouted. Another sculpture installed at the very same time (Matt Freedman's Watching People, in Harper Court) is made out of a more traditional outdoor material -- bronze -- and has withstood the elements.
And here are some glazed ceramic tiles that Mr. Bahauddeen recently installed on the Marquette Interchange in Wisconsin:
I sure hope the tiles are covered from the elements, or the sponsors of the Interchange beautification project will have a crumbling mess on their hands as well.
That is, unless they understand and embrace the Hyde Park Progress principle of "retire and rotate."