Sunday, August 10th, 2008
I had an epiphany while on an invigorating tour of the Meridian St. corridor a couple weeks back. My tour guide noted the plaza that was built around the elevated section of I-65 along the north side of downtown. These contain Octagonal designed surfaces at the corner of Meridian on the north side of I-65. Here’s a picture.
I’ve never been a big fan of octagons and hexagons, which were en vogue in the 1970’s. I think the use of hexagonal pavers is the weakest part of the Cultural Trail design. These things bring back too many memories of bad urban design such as the ill-fated State Street busway/pedestrian mall in Chicago. Still, this isn’t bad. But it does seem underutilized. Another one across Meridian creates a matching set.
This picture gives a bit more of the context of the setting as well.
When I saw this it really hit me: this is the perfect site for a pair of coat hangers!
To refresh your memory, the library is planning to install an artwork by Peter Shelton called “thinmanlittlebird”, consisting of a tall wire figure and a squat torus. These will be mounted on the pedestals flanking the Cret building entrance as shown in the rendering below.
The appearance of these caused one message board poster to dub them the “coat hanger” and the “donut”, which are as good as anything.
While I don’t mind the sculptures pair itself, I am not a fan of the site chosen for them. To refresh your memory, my reasons are:
- The contemporary designs clash with the classical formalism of the memorial mall. This could work in another neoclassical setting such as the old city hall, which could use a breath of fresh air like this, but does not pass muster in this most special space.
- It’s unbalanced design destroys the axial symmetry of the memorial blocks. Even the modern library addition respected this.
- The coat hanger is completely out of scale to the building and the nearby memorials. It will be clearly visible from even the World War Memorial building.
- Most importantly, these sculptures are thematically and aesthetically at odds with the solemn formality of the memorial mall. These blocks are literally hallowed ground, dedicated to Indiana’s war dead. The sculptures, at that location, show profound disrespect for Hoosiers fallen in battle. I can’t imaging many veterans groups happy with this. Gratuitous gestures of this nature only turn the public at large against contemporary art. These sculptures have already been referred to by those who applaud Mayor Ballard’s proposal to terminate of city art funding (though city funding is not paying for these).
The designs themselves are growing on me, and I think they could work well elsewhere. And I believe the Meridian/I-65 plaza, in the middle of those octagons, is the perfect site. Here’s a picture looking down Meridian right at where they would be:
I would put the coat hanger on the left, where it would be in scale with both the Anthem building and balance the existing tower on the right. The solidity of the donut balances the squat Anthem tower. In effect, the existing framing of downtown is echoed at smaller scale and balanced by thinmanlittlebird.
I will admit to being a pro-symmetry bigot. The human eye is just programmed that way anyway. We like symmetrical things. So I’ll give an alternative. Commission Shelton to make a matched pair. Well, not totally matched. You want symmetry of a sort, with just enough off about it to bring a bit of tension an interest. Two slightly different coat hangers like giant pillars on Meridian would be in perfect scale to the area and make a great gateway to downtown without obscuring the view. They’d even help provide visual relief and a touch of whimsy to passersby on the interstate. Then take the two donuts and put them at the library after all. This would eliminate the biggest problems with the current proposal. If you made the little bird an appropriate species (a dove comes to mind, but this is rather facile – it should be possible to get a better answer), you could even solve the thematic problem. This would combine balance, proportion, contemporary art, theme, and emotional tone in a way that respects the nature of the site.