Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Going Public

May 26, 2015 Joint Lab by Susan Weinberg

Today seemed especially suited for the Artists' Lab given our topic of water.  We sloshed our way through torrents of rain to gather for Sharon Zweigbaum's inside perspective on public art.  Sharon is a long-time art aficianado with a MA in Art History and Museum Studies.  She has served as an arts administrator, a writer, a long-time Walker docent and runs tours of topics related to public art for her business Artvantage.

Sharon began her presentation by asking what we knew of early public art in Minneapolis.  We concluded that much of it was commemorative art honoring a specific person.  One non-person specific piece that has been around since 1904 is the Father of Waters in city hall.  Originally created for New Orleans at the other end of the river, it was deemed too expensive and instead made its way further up the Mississippi to Minneapolis.  It contains many symbols of the river and was created by Larkin Mead.

It was not until the 1980s that the Minneapolis Arts Commission was created and focused upon art in public places, bringing a more contemporary perspective to public art.  They commissioned over 50 artworks.

Sharon shared a bit of history with us emphasizing how many of the names within Minnesota relate to water.  Mississippi is an Indian word misi-ziibi meaning Great River.  It is 2320 miles long from the headwaters to the mouth and the 4th largest river in the world.  Minnesota means sky tinted water, Minnetonka- the big water, Mendota - meeting of the rivers and Minneapolis means city of lakes.  There are 22 lakes and wetlands within Minneapolis alone and over 12,000 in the state of Minnesota.

St. Anthony Falls is the only true falls on the Mississippi River.  Father Hennepin was the first European to see and write about the falls. He had been captured by Indians and lived with them for two years.  During that time he first saw the falls, nearly 60 feet high, in the area that is now Minneapolis.  In their travels they encountered French explorer Daniel Graysolon Du Luht ( the source of the name for Duluth, MN) who persuaded the Indians to release Hennepin. There is a statue of Hennepin in front of the Basilica today.

Native groups had many words for the falls some of which translated to curling water, falling water, whirlpool and severed rock. The power of the falls was later instrumental in Minneapolis becoming the milling capital of the world in the 1880s.

Sharon then took us on a visual tour of many of the public art sites in Minneapolis beginning with  the Mill Ruins Park and the Gold Medal Park that overlook the Stone Arch Bridge.   She noted that the Stone Arch Bridge was built by James J Hill in 1883. 

There are a number of public artworks in the city and many of them relate to water.  Some of the ones that Sharon highlighted can be found on MPR Soundpoint where you can dial a number and hear the artist speak.  The Tilted Bowl Fountain by Seitu Jones forces one to hold the bowl like a kind of ritual or homage. The piece is designed to recall a shell of a mussel which is endangered as well as water pouring out of the bowl. 

Another sculpture Enjoyment of Nature is by Kinji Akagawa and located across the street from the downtown library.  The work looks at the metaphor of how the city grows similar to the circle that forms when a stone is thrown into water.  The piece was taken down at one point due to damage from skateboarders, but is now back in place.

Some of the challenges to public art in addition to skateboards include new construction, vandalism and barriers that have been created since 9-11.

Many of the public artworks can be found on a map put out by the Art in Public Places program in 2002.  While some pieces may have been retired and new ones added, the map highlights a number of the pieces that Sharon addressed.  Those include George Morrison's piece on Nicollet Mall called
Tableau Native American Mosaic.  Morrison focused much of his work on Lake Superior so a connection to water is found in much of his design.

In 1992 Seitu Jones and Tacoumba-Aiken together with poet Soyini Guyton created Shadows of Spirit.  These  bronze shadows were of minority members who made significant contributions to the community, but were not adequately recognized.

Also included were the frescos of St. Thomas by Mark Balma, the second largest ceiling fresco in the US. The frescos include the theme of the Mississippi River representing the flow of life.

A number of the pieces can be found on-line.  Among those are  manhole covers by Kate Burke that reflect themes related to Minnesota. 

More recent works were created when the central library was developed. The terrazzo floor by Lita Albequerque in the library commons is based on what happens when one skips a stone across a body of water. 

A cast glass sculpture by Howard Ben Tre can be found by Target Corporate Headquarters on Nicollet Mall.

A survey of public art related to water would not be complete without a trip to the Walker where we find Frank Gehry's giant fish perched over a pond.  This fifty-two foot tall glass sculpture was created for the 1986 Gehry retrospective and then taken apart scale by scale until it was reassembled.   Gehry was originally Frank Goldberg and recalled the fish swimming in the bathtub prior to their demise to make gefilte fish.  Fish are a motif that he often uses in his work.

Also at the Walker one will find the Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen Spoonbridge and Cherry.  The spoon and cherry are in a pond and serve as a fountain.  His wife Coosje felt that the spoon would be too dull in the winter and added the cherry for color.

There are many more pieces than can be covered adequately.  I invite you to reference a more recent map  put out by Forecast to find additional works.

We concluded our lab with some hands-on work on the river.  On a long sheet of paper we drew a river and then using watercolor and drawing pens added elements to it, flowers and fauna and birds and ducks and of course public art!

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