art at work

La Femme      Myron Gauger        Waynesville, NC                      picture: June 2017

This big (about six feet high) sculpture is situated in a little traffic-bound triangle park at the foot of the hill where our small downtown is located. The plantings are very pretty and the bench is  a nice touch, too. The stone head is well made–very skilled craft, as far as I can tell–and the material fits into the setting. However, I have yet to see anyone sitting in the bench or admiring the piece close up. As nice as this little “pocket park” is, it is difficult to get to. There is traffic on either side of the triangle and no clear path to the park. I mean, it’s not NYC rush hour, but the flow of traffic is usually just heavy enough to make darting across the street awkward and uncomfortable. The statue is big enough to be seen from the sidewalk, but the greenery is prodigious this year, so the head is becoming somewhat obscured. The situation is okay, but not ideal, and I want public art to be really accessible. Also, I find the head, although well made and thoughtfully designed, to be predictable and limiting. It presents a well-worn idea of generic ‘woman’ and in no way challenges or broaden viewers’ ideas about gender, material, setting, environment, craft or culture. A piece does not have to do everything, but I want it to do a little more than this piece does; I want art to be a little more “alive” and to engage me beyond a glance.

 

Always Ready        Steven Bonitz      Waynesville, NC                      picture: May 2017

This piece was done by the artist who created the Old Time Music piece below. This militiaman is somewhat more interesting and is placed in front of the town’s Armory (which is a lovely old building that houses some Parks and Rec activities and had hosted a community garden last year) just off of downtown. There’s a little more creativity apparent in this piece and some of the components the artist used are unexpected. The bench, built in the shape of the state, provides a sense of scale–the figure is large and vigilant over it, ‘always ready,’ I guess. The green paint and the design of the piece as an outline through which you can see the mountains were chosen by Bonitz no doubt to highlight the environment and to suggest the protective embrace of the militia. I find it uninspired, but it is a reasonable figure to put outside an armory. However, that building is usually filled with elderly people and kids playing with clay; civilians use this building daily and this green man does not represent the life lived here. So, although there are some clever aspects to it, for example, the figure changes as your perspective does, I do not find this sculpture to really connect with me or its environment.

graffiti from the streets of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico       pictures: 2009

This graffiti was all over the walls in a neighborhood close to downtown in San Cristobal.   Although the Zapatista uprising was long before my visit, it was clear even to me, a tourist, that many of the forces that propelled that event were still at issue. I was interested in the stencil prints because I’m interested in printmaking, generally (I spent a bunch of time at Taller Leñateros–really neat! And the printmakers and paper makers were very friendly and informative–if you’re ever in the neighborhood, GO!), and I am interested in this form of political statement. The buildings seemed to be privately owned, so I am reluctant to endorse this defacement, but I also believe that this commentary was important for everyone to see. Undoubtedly, I do not know enough about the life of the city or the culture to have an informed opinion. But, I really dig the images and the impulse.

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Old Time Music, Stefan Bonitz      Waynesville, NC   picture: March 2017

Although I often see people (mostly tourists) taking pictures of themselves, their friends and their children with these fellows, and I understand that the pieces have some visual appeal, I simply cannot stand these things. (Well, I like their hats…) They are predictable, not beautifully made, in an awkward spot, especially for foto-ops, and they are not true to their small-So. Appalachian-town-main-street-evolving-to-boutique-business environment. Additionally, the contrast they underline, between the original white inhabitants (who took Cherokee land), hard-scrabble colonizing Scots-Irish Appalachians, and the current residents, wealthy Georgians, Floridians and Asheville-ians, is an ugly one; these (super-sized and inflexible) hillbilly noise boys are located just feet away from a restaurant that charges $24 for a plate of pasta. What is the point of this piece? I take for granted that the artist is sincere, but I wonder about the people who put this thing here.

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locally designed coffee travel mugs; a Starbucks in Albuquerque, NM  September 2016

I am not a fan of Starbucks or of corporate-manipulated culture generally, but these cups are FANTASTICK! This is the way to engage your customers, to recognize their diversity and to contribute to a more refined commercial culture.  These cups clearly identify the region and speak to us about history, production and the individual artist. I think they are just beautiful!

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balloon festival, Albuquerque, NM  October 2016

I took this picture of the house across the street; this house is located on the Rio Grande and the launch site was on the other side of the river. The morning was perfectly still, bright and clear–the sky was crystalline. New Mexico in the early fall is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

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Tricentennial Tower, Jim Glidden   Albuquerque, NM   picture: September 2016

These Towers by Glidden are another fantastic example of good public art; they are well-made, beautiful, culturally relevant and appropriate to their setting. They truly enhance the site and tell viewers more about it; the towers reflect the religious and cultural environment of the Albuquerque area and are both historic and contemporary in materials, motif and references. They’re great!

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Tricentennial Tower, Jim Glidden   Albuquerque, NM   picture: September 2016

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Tree of Life,  Beverly Magennis   Albuquerque, NM   picture: September 2016

This is another wonderful piece from a busy street in ABQ–it has presence, it’s culturally relevant, the materials and technique are accessible to the layperson, and it’s GORGEOUS! I think this is a perfect piece of urban art because, aside from the qualities just mentioned, it’s also ‘safe’ in the sense that there are not potentially dangerous formal elements and also, it looks easy to clean, it’s very solid, non-rusting, non-corroding, non-fading… This is about my favorite piece of public art in this city of abundant, GOOD public art. It truly enhances my experience on that stretch of Albuquerque street.

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public art, Tucumcari, NM  August 2016

Oh, Tucumcari, what happened, Big City of Dreams? This metal piece is, for no apparent reason, fastened to this cement block in the middle of an empty lot in what still appears to be downtown (this town is really barely lurching along–I hadn’t been for more than a decade and in that time, the place has deteriorated markedly). There are empty storefronts, some thrift-type places, a workout club or two (who attends?) and, I think, a couple of social service offices…The city is melting away into the desert. This piece above has no plate listing its name or creator. It seems a strange comment on the environment. Aside from a possible indiscernible connection to Tucumcari or this street or the local culture, this piece, although nicely made, is utterly predictable and unremarkable and is attractive only in its unexpected, unexplained presence. Is that the point? Is it deliberately absurd? (Or was this space formerly a park? I wonder.) I support public art, even this piece, but I am convinced that an artist with this kind of skill could have made something more inspiring–and I think Tucumcari needs a little more inspiration right now.