Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Retire and Rotate, Part I

posted by Elizabeth Fama

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.)

Under City Stone (painted in 1973), and the artist, Caryl Yasko, with her recent indoor mural in the Manitowoc Public Library (photo credit [right]: Patrick J. Young, for the City of Manitowoc).

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.

Orisha Wall (erected in 1986), and its artist, Muneer Bahauddeen (photo of Mr. Bahauddeen [right] reproduced with permission of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.)

This is a close-up of Orisha Wall -- a portion on which the glazed tiles are completely missing:

And here are some glazed ceramic tiles that Mr. Bahauddeen recently installed on the Marquette Interchange in Wisconsin:

(reproduced with permission of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation)

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."


chicago pop said...

the tyrrany of the Medici.

How apt. I love it.

Famac said...

Great post and solid thinking - but once you showed this guy is still employed as an artist - I got side tracked laughing.

gogomama said...

Reuse and recycle . . . Someone on the Milwaukee Craigslist has offered to pick up the shards on 55th.


Elizabeth Fama said...

famac, what surprised me is that Mr. Bahauddeen is still putting ceramic tiles in outdoor installations. But to be generous, perhaps he has solved the inherent problems (firing temperature has to be just right, glaze thickness has to be just right, absolutely no seepage in joints, etc.).

Interesting that both artists are active in Wisconsin.

chicago pop said...

Good tip, gogomama.

People should respond to that craigslist add and tell the guy to come pick up the pieces of the thing on 55th. Here's the add with email:

Reply to: comm-578098552@craigslist.org
Date: 2008-02-18, 11:30AM CST

The Martin Drive Neighborhood Association is preparing to do a public art project. The art project will led by artist, Muneer Bahauddeen. Muneer will create a series of three neighborhood mosaic signs.

We are looking for shards ceramic, porcelain and pottery. Of added interest would be a brief story of where the piece came from, any sentimental value to you and how the piece became broken. Stories will be used in promotions and possibly a mosaic booklet of stories.

If you can help, contact me and we can arrange for pick up of the shards.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Wow, this is really a lesson for people with grant money to spend: look carefully into an artist's past outdoor works to see how well they've stood up to the weather and time!

Zig & Lou said...

The Little Black Pearl is involved in the beautification of the Cottage Grove corridor, and some of the installations they are planning include ceramic tiles. All of the potential installation art pieces are included in an online catalog, 'Business District Design Features Catalog' that is on the LBP website. Art or craft? hmmmm.