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Archive for the ‘Public Art’ Category

While attending an outdoor concert at the North Carolina Museum of Art in the late 1990s, I remember feeling curious about a seemingly odd series of large shapes in various materials lined up between the museum building and the amphitheater. I also wondered about the geometric forms protruding from the stage in strange directions, and a gray-painted rectangle superimposed on part of theater seating area. I never closely investigated the objects, being more interested in the musical entertainment at that time. Then I happened to see an aerial image of the site, discovering that the shapes are actually letters spelling “Picture This”— clever, but really only when viewed from above. I later learned that some of the letters include phrases that reference the history, culture, and landscape of North Carolina – at least that is something to be gained when viewing the objects at ground level, where most people see them.
 
Aerial 1
“Picture This”, a sculptural installation at the North Carolina Museum of Art
 
In my opinion, for art to successfully function as part of the landscape of a public space, it not only needs to be comprehensible from eye level; it also should communicate well with its surroundings. Furthermore, the design should include a sufficient amount of elements at human scale (such as seating and planted areas), especially when a plan includes vast expanses of pavement. In recent years, various blogs I’ve followed have included striking images of public landscapes with interesting flowing forms, geometric lines and shapes, and bright colors. Many of these photos, however, were taken from above. For some projects, aerial images were the only ones included, which makes me wonder whether these spaces truly work: Are they comfortable and inviting places? Do people tend to linger in these settings, or are they devoid of much activity?
 
One such project that intrigues me is the seafront promenade in Benidorm, Spain, probably because of its rainbow of pavement colors and curvy walls which mimic ocean waves. I haven’t visited this beach, so I couldn’t say whether it succeeds as a public space, but I like how each color lends some identity to every section of this extensive walkway, instead of repeating the same pattern and/or colors along its entire length. I think that certain unifying elements are important throughout any type of site design; but long, linear spaces should include some variety as well, to avoid creating a monotonous experience along these corridors.
 
Aerial 2
Seafront promenade, Benidorm, Spain
 
For comparison, in another part of Spain, a median promenade along the Avenida de Portugal, in Madrid, includes large flower motifs throughout its length, referencing a valley in the region known for its cherry blossoms. The median is actually the roof of a highway tunnel, and the image below only shows one portion of this walkway. I’m curious to know whether this space is well-used.
 
Aerial 3
Avenida de Portugal, Madrid, Spain
 
The following aerial images include a few more public spaces which are fascinating and attractive when viewed in two dimensions. Some of these and others that I’ve seen in photos from above make me think of abstract paintings or fiber art works. Do they function well in 3-D at human level? I will reserve judgment until and unless I have the chance to experience them in person. (Even photos taken from the ground don’t often give me a sense of how a space feels.) If any of my readers have been to these or other sites with an emphasis on artistic forms, I would love to hear some comments.
 
Aerial 4
Grand Canal Square, Docklands, Dublin, Ireland
 
Aerial 5
Earthly Pond Service Center, International Horticulture Exposition, Qingdao, China
 
Aerial 6
Superkilen (south section), Copenhagen, Denmark
 
Aerial 7
Superkilen (north section), Copenhagen, Denmark
 
All images obtained from Google Earth.

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Aside from inducing a sense of calm, moving water tends to have a psychologically cooling effect, and it softens or masks surrounding noise. In the built landscape, it can be incorporated in many ways. Examples below illustrate some of that variety: a few of these features are meant to be interactive while others are not; several of them emphasize the water, which is more subtle or secondary in other cases; and some were designed to mimic nature whereas others are geometric in pattern or form. In all cases, the inclusion of water clearly adds to the appeal of these outdoor spaces.

 

Water feature 1
Playful jets in Place des Festivals, Montreal, Quebec

 

Water feature 2
Waterfall in the Split Basin, CityGarden, St. Louis, Missouri

 

Water feature 3
Rock wall resembling natural strata with water seeping out, Teardrop Park, New York City

 

Water feature 4
Fountain in the Japanese Garden, Portland, Oregon

 

Water feature 5
Interactive fountain in Portland, Oregon, that alternates between jets and mist

 

Water feature 6
Sculpture with trickling water in the Rose Test Garden, Portland, Oregon

 

Water feature 7
Water feature in Portland, Oregon

 

Water feature 8
Waterfall and channel, Chinatown Park, Boston

 

Water feature 9
Mosaic fountain, Lincoln Road pedestrian mall, Miami Beach, Florida

 

Water feature 10
Planter with falling water in a courtyard, Miami Beach, Florida
 
All photos by Alice Webb, except the following:
Photo with bear sculptures/fountain in Portland, Oregon, by Nancy Novell

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I’ve encountered a variety of interesting art pieces in landscape settings ranging from urban to natural. Some are in parks and nature preserves, others are along city streets and alleys, and a few are in small town centers. Some integrate visually and thematically with their surroundings, and others stand alone. Below are a few favorites.

 

1 - Art on the High Line 1
Cut-outs in a small panel (viewed through a scope) on New York City’s High Line transform this view of buildings into abstract shapes.

 

2 - Art on the High Line 2
More art on the High Line: A modernistic wire structure with houses and seed/fruit trays for birds and insects seems to represent the intersection of city and nature, as does much of the High Line. A similar structure faces the opposite direction on the other side of the walkway.

 

3 - Garden in the Woods
These transparent facial profiles at Garden in the Woods in Framingham, Massachusetts, appear to symbolize the connection between people and nature.

 

4 - MSU art museum
Juxtaposition of “natural” and built forms – Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University in East Lansing

 

5 - Felice Varini - New Haven
Painted optical illusion in New Haven, Connecticut, by Felice Varini – this shape is only visible when one stands at a specific point. As one progresses further down the alley, it no longer appears as four circles within a square.

 

6 - Cambridge granite sculpture
Sculpture composed of various types of stone in Cambridge, Massachusetts

 

7 - Sculpture in Eastport ME
Granite sculpture in Eastport, Maine – a town whose principal industry is commercial fishing

 

8 - CityGarden bas-relief
Bas-relief piece in CityGarden – a sculpture park in St. Louis, Missouri

 

9 - Sculpture in Montreal
A deep discussion taking place in Montreal, Quebec

 

10 - Belfast ME bench
Colorful bench in Belfast, Maine

 

11 - SLCH healing garden
Whimsical piece in the Olson Family Garden at St. Louis Children’s Hospital

 

See also Public Art in Outdoor Spaces (Part 1)

Photos by Alice Webb

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To follow up on my last post about promenades, one fine example that I visited recently is a 2.5-km. greenway along the Saint Lawrence River in Quebec City. The Promenade Samuel de Champlain was completed in 2008 in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city. It includes separate pedestrian and bicycle paths, contemporary art, and intersecting gardens/walkways with references to the natural and historical significance of the river. Champlain Boulevard, a major roadway leading into lower Quebec City, was improved and incorporated into the design.

I only had the time to see a couple sections of this extensive waterfront esplanade – below are a few images from my visit.

 

promenade samuel de champlain 1
Quai des Brumes (Quay of Mists) is one of several walkway/garden areas crossing the promenade. In summer, linear grates emit mist, referencing the occasional riverine conditions. Geometric stone monoliths are juxtaposed with natural boulders at this site.

 

promenade samuel de champlain 2
The Quai des Brumes garden continues across Champlain Boulevard, perpendicular to the promenade. Other garden areas along the route also cross in a similar manner.

 

promenade samuel de champlain 3
This is another area with an art installation, in this case mimicking the trees. Bicycle and pedestrian ways are separate throughout most of the promenade’s length.

 

promenade samuel de champlain 4
Observation tower at the Cageux Pier, marking the west end of the promenade

 

promenade samuel de champlain 5
Seating area on the pier

 

promenade samuel de champlain 6
An array of bike stands is situated next to a multipurpose building at the Cageux Pier.

 

promenade samuel de champlain 7
I like how the vertical lines of this railing transect the shadows of seating/steps that lead down to the river’s edge.

 

promenade samuel de champlain 8
At the western end of the promenade, the bicycle path separates (to the left) from the pedestrian walkway.

 

promenade samuel de champlain 9
Nice combination of wood decking, pavers, and concrete along the pedestrian section of the promenade. (The bicycle path diverges to the left at this point.)

 

promenade samuel de champlain 10
Bicycle section of the promenade – the dandelions on each side of this trail actually look great en masse.

 

Photos by Alice Webb

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Citygarden is a relatively new (2009) sculpture park in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, which I visited in late October of 2012. It encompasses two city blocks, and features over 20 works of art. The design of this park was inspired by the natural characteristics of the region’s river environments. Along the northern edge of the property, urban terraces represent river bluffs; the central, lower segment loosely depicts a flood plain; and a serpentine seat wall symbolizes a river as it winds along the southern section of the park. In addition, Citygarden has several sustainable features, including six rain gardens and a green roof on the park’s café.

 


All features at Citygarden are meant to be experienced – there are no “Do not touch” signs to be found at the park. In warmer months, a thin sheet of water runs down the Tilted Disc in front of this sculpture.

 


A series of steel arcs is one of the first sculptures in view when entering the park from the east. The Limestone Arc Wall, which gently curves across the length of the park, can be seen in the background.

 


The long, rectangular Split Basin is situated in the northeast quadrant of the park. There are two levels to this basin, with a waterfall in between, where the Limestone Arc Wall intersects it. A modernist café is situated to the right in this photo.

 


Arc sculptures as seen from above the Split Basin’s waterfall

 


The lower portion of the Split Basin includes stepping stones.

 


Park visitors check out the Video Wall.

 


The granite Meander Wall separates lawn from lush plantings

 


The Meander Wall continues along the southern section of the park, for 1,100 feet.

 


“The Door of Return” stands along the park’s central walkway. In summer, the Spray Plaza, behind this sculpture, includes numerous vertical water jets that spray in various patterns, with dancing lights at night.

 


“Scarecrow” stands guard along a wooded walkway.

 


“Zenit” adorns the summit of a hill at the park’s northwest corner.

 


View from the park’s high point, facing southeast

 


Playful rabbit sculpture at the park’s west end

 

Photos by Alice Webb

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New York’s Hudson River Park has been built in phases, extending for several miles along the west edge of Manhattan. In mid-March I visited the Chelsea section, from Pier 62 to 29th Street.

 


Entrance area of the Chelsea Cove section of the park – this section includes extensive lawn areas, a concrete skate park, carousel, and walkways.

 


Picnic area near the entrance to Chelsea Cove

 


View of Pier 62, including a carousel with a green roof

 


Seating area on Pier 62 with “floating” lights

 


A walkway near the skate park (fenced area to the right)

 


The 11-mile long Hudson River Greenway runs adjacent to the park

 


Pier 64 features lawns, walkways, and seating

 


Linear section of the park north of Pier 64

 


Sculpture at 29th Street

 

Photos by Alice Webb

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I love to see art pieces in public spaces – they often liven up a place and generate conversation. Below are a few interesting installations found in the U.S. and Europe, both permanent and temporary, in quite a range of styles and materials.

 


Streetscape sculptures in downtown Portland, Oregon

 


Stainless steel piece incorporating running water in the Rose Test Garden of Portland, Oregon

 


Bronze elephants in the North Park Blocks of Portland, Oregon

 


Salvador Dali elephant along the Thames River in London

 


Series of stone sculptures in a park in Caunes-Minervois, France

 


Core-ten steel lobster in Woolwich, Maine

 


Wind-activated piece in the deCordova Sculpture Park, Lincoln, Massachusetts

 


Giant typewriter eraser in the Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle, Washington

 


Jellyfish in Elm Park, Worcester, Massachusetts

 


Hand-woven banners cover a footbridge in Elm Park, Worcester, Massachusetts

 


Barrel Monster is erected for a festival in Raleigh, North Carolina

Photos in Massachusetts and Oregon by Alice Webb
Photos in Washington, Maine, North Carolina, and European countries by Nancy Novell (Thank-you, Nancy!)

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