Enough public art fiascos, thanks

Public art for the plaza at Boise City Hall, according to a recent Statesman headline, is “back on track.”

We can only hope.

When it comes to such projects, Boise has a history of being so far off  track that the result can be as much public outrage as public art.

Northwest Passage, for example. Remember that? Originally titled “Point of Origin,” it consisted of three sterile-looking rectangles in the same plaza the city is attempting to beautify with yet another piece of public artwork. Reaction was so negative – a  Statesman story at the time characterized it as “near apoplexy” – that it was moved to Julia Davis Park, where it remains today.

Northwest Passage was touted as evoking our history. Somehow those mystifying metal rectangles were supposed to inspire visions of Lewis and Clark, Capt. Bonneville or, for all the average person knew from looking at them, Chief Seattle.

The most historic thing about them may have been the sales pitch the artist used in talking the city into buying them. The only visions they inspired for me were of geometry class.

One of the most controversial examples of public art in Boise, of course, is that which confronts passersby at the corner of Capitol Boulevard and Front Street. This is one of the most, if not the most, prominent intersections in the city. It deserves something inviting. Something tasteful. Something beautiful.

So what do we have – assaulting us daily from the front of the Grove Hotel?

The steaming crack.

When it was unveiled, to considerable fanfare, I thought it looked like a geothermal weed – a vinelike monstrosity on an electric-blue background oozing steam. Its only saving grace was that the steam partially obscured the ghastliness of it. Now the paint is chipped and faded and even the placating steam is gone.

The crack was billed as a vertical river honoring water, “the lifesource of Boise,” but let’s be honest. Have you ever once walked or driven by it and observed, “My, what a lovely likeness of our lifesource!”

Of course you haven’t. It doesn’t look at all like a lifesource. It looks like what it is – a rundown, ill-conceived, formerly steaming crack.

An architectural firm is reassessing the crack in the hope that it can be renovated.

Here’s an idea. Forget renovating it. Take it out and start over. Fill in the crack and replace it with something that will require less maintenance and actually be attractive. What law says public art has to be ugly, weird, or both.

Speaking of weird, what about those ridiculous wings on the parking garage at the airport? They looks like mosquitoes trying to lift an anvil.

This is not to say that Boise doesn’t have good public art pieces. We’re fortunate to have a number of them:

Ann LaRose’s charming “Keepsies” sculpture, for example – the one of children playing marbles near the fountain on the Grove. And, though not art per se, the fountain itself. If there’s a better example of interactive public art in Boise, I haven’t seen it.

Amy Westover’s “Grove Street Illuminated,” the aluminum circles inscribed with historical photos and texts at Ninth and Grove. Not only is it interesting visually, you can learn a fair amount of local history from it. (Wouldn’t it be nice if the developer of nearby Bodo had included a fitting memorial to that area’s rich history? If you’re listening, Mark Rivers, it’s not too late.)

The new replica of Gutzon Borglum’s seated Lincoln in Julia Davis Park  inspires respect for one of our greatest presidents without being even slightly off-putting. I seldom pass it without stopping or at least slowing down. On successive visits, I’ve seen grownups reverently contemplating Lincoln’s legacy and laughing children snuggled up to the former president as if he were a beloved grandfather. You can’t ask much more of a sculpture than that.

A panel has selected three finalists from more than 50 artists or art groups that have applied to do the new piece for City Hall Plaza. You can see what they’ve come up with beginning May 11, at City Hall or on the city’s website, and will have two weeks to tell the city what you think.

That’s important. If, like me, you’ve bellyached about some of the lemons chosen in the past, this is your chance to influence a choice.

The panel that selected the finalists will name the winner, who will then have to win the approval of the city’s Visual Arts Committee, Arts and History Commission, the Capital City Development Corp. and ultimately the city council.

If that many people like it, maybe it will be something the rest of us can live with – or at least not question the mental health of those who voted for it.

The city, according to a recent Statesman story, “is looking for a piece that is modern and looks toward the future but also is welcoming, exciting and comfortable for people who come to City Hall.”

Fine. But would it be too much to hope for something really basic – that it be pleasing to the eye?

Each time the subject of beautifying Boise is in the news, I think of a remark by a local architect, who told me years ago that when it came to aesthetic considerations it was common to cut corners or settle for second-rate – or worse – because “it’s only Boise.” If it was New York or Chicago or Seattle, he said, architects, developers and even artists would do things  differently.

Boise has grown up a good deal since then. It’s bigger, more vibrant, more interesting. Our art should reflect that.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in the Statesman’s Life section and is posted on http://www.woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@hotmail.com.

2 thoughts on “Enough public art fiascos, thanks

  1. So, when I read the column on an email basis I find a statement at the end that says, “no comments yet.” But I see in the follow-up article that lots of comments were commented. I think there would something shown at this woodwardblog.com site but maybe there is some sort of glitch in the system.

    Re Steaming Crack. I think I can see that the design was derived from a mathematic expression invented by a Mr. Mandelbrot (sp?) of IBM and now called the Mandelrot Set. It generates elaborate, infinitely variable patterns from just a few simple lines of algebra.

    The Scientific American featured the graphics generated by this thing. It was shown in one of the Magazine’s issues that some variations looked like a river and its tributaries. The article included artists illustrations on this river theme. They were indeed quite attractive.

    Yes, some of the fractal variations can be seen by the mind’s eye as rivers, if one is so inclined to think of it that way, but it can just as easily be seen as a steaming crack. Especially if seen in the context of bricks and mortar and asphalt and bumper-to-bumper steel.


  2. Undeniably believe that which you stated. Your favorite justification appeared to be at the internet the simplest thing to have in mind of. I say to you, I definitely get irked at the same time as people think about issues that they plainly don’t realize about. You managed to hit the nail upon the highest and outlined out the entire thing without having side effect , other folks can take a signal. Will probably be again to get more. Thanks


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s