There’s a long tradition of artists and architects using their work to mark a passage from one kind of space to another or to distinguish an area from its surroundings.
Sometimes that passage is hard to miss, as with the massive triumphal arches constructed by Romans 2,000 years ago to mark the re-entry of victorious armies into the city of Rome. Other artists create a more subtle kind of transition; for example, many churches have a vestibule between the outdoors and the inside of the church proper. Even though it may go unnoticed, that vestibule is part of a centuries-long tradition in church architecture, designed to incrementally transition people from a worldly exterior space to a religious interior space.
Public art can similarly mark a shift from one zone to another. Whether you’re entering or leaving downtown, the new sculpture planned for the Superior Circle roundabout will mark the transition from one part of town to the next. The sculpture, titled City, will be visible for blocks to those traveling west on Superior to leave downtown, and it will rise in front of anyone cresting the bridge southward over the St. Marys river.
It marks this transition from one part of town to the next with abstraction and simplicity, as a series of colored poles. Those qualities don’t necessarily disqualify something from being good public art – the Great Pyramids are as simple and abstract as it gets, and they’ve been successful as works of art.
In fact, abstract art has advantages over art that depicts a recognizable subject matter. Abstract art, like City, is flexible in interpretation and meaning. One person might see the vertical poles as the buildings of a city skyline, while another might see the different heights of those verticals as suggestive of growth. It will be in the center of a roundabout; as a viewer drives around it, all of the parts of the sculpture will be in motion relative to one another. For some, this could be reminiscent of the way that citizens of Fort Wayne are in constant motion relative to one another. Another viewer may drive past it every day and never really notice it, until early one morning the sun rises behind it in a particularly striking way. It’s impossible to know what kind of impression it will make without standing in front of the object itself.
Seeing the sculpture in person may change feelings about it, but so too may the passage of time – it is worth noting that works such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Statue of Liberty were initially met with heavy criticism.
Ultimately, though, if someone isn’t a big fan of City, I can’t really talk them into changing their taste in art – that would be as worthwhile as trying to talk someone out of liking their favorite band. If you like the sculpture, I’m preaching to the choir, and you’ll probably see it as another public artwork that gives Fort Wayne a distinct visual identity. But maybe this could encourage someone to give City a little time – you never know, it might grow on you.
Andrew Haslit is continuing lecturer of art history at IPFW’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.