The Curious Case Of The Deer On The Bridge

When Kish and I walked to Franklinton on Sunday, we crossed the Scioto River on the Town Street bridge. Just after the midpoint of the bridge we found this life-sized metal sculpture of a fully antlered buck standing upright at the railing of the bridge, facing north.

It’s a fine rendition of a deer. But the sculpture raises so many questions that it’s almost a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Why is there a sculpture of a deer standing on its hind legs on a downtown bridge in Columbus, Ohio?

Is the deer just enjoying a nice view of the Columbus skyline and the Scioto River in its new channel? Or is the trophy buck using the vantage point of the bridge to scan for hunters or predators? On the darker side, could the deer be depressed and preparing to jump? Is there some deep significance to the fact that the deer is facing north, or that it is a stag rather than a doe? For that matter, why a deer at all? I can’t think of any special connection between Ohio’s capital city and deer. If a wolverine were preparing to hurl itself into oblivion at the sight of Columbus, in contrast, it would be understandable.

Experts will tell you that a good test of public art is whether it provokes thought and discussion. By that standard, the curious case of the deer on the bridge is a great success. And for that same reason, I’m not going to even try to scan the internet for an explanation. I’m just going to leave it a mystery.

The Horse Head Rorschach Test

Every day, the pleasant burghers of Bensalem, Pennsylvania who drive past the Parx Casino and Racing complex are confronted by this gigantic sculpture of a horse’s head precariously balanced on the tip of its nose, which is placed out in front of the casino right next to the road.  

It’s a fine rendering of a horse’s head, as horse head sculptures go — but what do you think of when you see an enormous horse head on your drive to pick up Krispy Kreme donuts? Do you focus on the fact that the head is severed, and think of The Godfather?  Or do you, like the animal-loving Marquette Warrior, conclude that the horse is happily taking a drink of water?  Do you wonder how, from an engineering standpoint, they got the massive structure to balance like that?  Or, do you focus on the totally discordant, out-of-place element of a huge green horse head on an otherwise undistinguished, soulless suburban commercial strip, and idly wonder if it was left by aliens?

In such ways does public art challenge us.

En Plein Air

IMG_5281Yesterday I met Kish for lunch at Little Palace then took a slightly different path on my walk back to the office.  After I crossed Broad Street, heading north on Fourth Street, I noticed the painting above on one of the pillars at the entrance to the building at 23 North Fourth.

I’d never walked this side of the block before, and the painting drew my eye.  It’s a small painting of street scene featuring a nearby building in downtown Columbus; a simple, human-scale piece rather than one of those gigantic abstract urban art sculptures that city planners decide to place next to a busy intersection or in the plaza of an office building.  I noticed a sign next to the painting that said it was a plein air piece in acrylics by artist Deb Haller that was part of the Finding Time project by Columbus Public Art 2012.

After stopping to admire the painting I moved on, then noticed another of the paintings in Lynn alley on the block between Fourth Street and Lazelle, and another piece on a wall of a building on Lazelle between Lynn and Gay Street.  The latter, by artist Susan Otten, is shown below.  I enjoyed them all, and wondered:  how had I missed them before?

When I got home I checked the internet and learned that the paintings I saw were among 20 different plein air paintings in the downtown area commissioned as part of the Columbus Public Art 2012 Finding Time project.  The website explains that the paintings “were meant to be discovered by pedestrians going about their everyday business.”  Speaking for this pedestrian, I would say “mission accomplished.”


Wally The Walleye

At one of the corners of the main intersection in Vermilion, Ohio, you will find Wally The Walleye. Wally is a good-sized metal sculpture that appears to be anatomically accurate –he’s even got a lure in his mouth — but rather than standard scales he’s got fish representations on his shiny skin.

Wally is part of the “Follow The Fish” Art and Adventure Trail along Lake Erie. He was sponsored by the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. As is the case with so much public art, Wally adds a very nice and distinctive touch to his little corner of the world. The Follow The Fish Trail is a cool idea.

At The Ohio Statehouse Holocaust Memorial

IMG_6154Earlier this month, the newest memorial on the Ohio Statehouse grounds was dedicated.  Located on the State Street side, it is a memorial to the millions who died during the Holocaust — and to the soldiers who helped to liberate them.

The memorial is The Ohio Holocaust and Liberators Memorial.  It consists of two massive steel and bronze pieces that fit together to leave a symbolic empty space in the shape of the Star of David; the pieces are engraved with statements about the Holocaust.  A granite walkway leads up to the memorial, bordered by a low limestone wall that reads:  “Inspired by the Ohio Soldiers who were part of the American Liberation and Survivors who made Ohio their home” and adds, “If You Save One Life, It Is As If You Saved The World.”

The holocaust memorial is a worthy addition to the wide array of public art on the Statehouse grounds.  May we always be reminded, and may we never forget.


Art Of The Inexplicable

I like some public art and I dislike other public art — but at least I can usually understand what the art is attempting to convey.  No more!  A new bit of public art in Columbus has me stumped.

It’s the creation of a Brooklyn artist named Janet Zweig, and it appears on a wall behind the Key Bank building in downtown Columbus.  It’s a series of unadorned words on an otherwise blank wall.  The first five words were selected by Zweig, they were “Columbus never came here, but . . . ”  Every two weeks or so, new words, suggested by Columbus residents and visitors and chosen by Zweig and curators of the piece, have been added to the wall.  A statement accompanying the piece explains:  “Generative text can tap into an unconscious that often discovers hidden, insightful, poetic, and sometimes humorous truths.”  The new words are selected in an attempt to shift the meaning of the words, and the stated “goal is to change the meaning of the sentence (or sentences) each time a new section is added, in an attempt ultimately to capture the soul of Columbus, as described by its residents.”

I’m not sure words on a wall could ever “capture the soul of Columbus,” but if these words have done so Columbus must have the soul of bathroom graffitist or an adolescent who thinks “Mad Libs” are hilarious.  Does anyone from Columbus actually think this piece reflects well on our fair city?

Enough, Already!

Walking the streets of downtown Cleveland today, I saw . . . painted electric guitars at various locations on the sidewalks, each with a theme that supposedly celebrates something about Cleveland.  Get it?  Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, electric guitars?

Gahhh!  Hasn’t this whole concept been beaten to death, long ago?  I’ve seen painted cows in Chicago, painted pigs in Cincinnati . . . and I’m sure that countless other boring, copycat cities have made their own unimaginative forays into public art, where some local iconic symbol gets painted in different ways by local artists, and we’re supposed to appreciate what it says about the city in question.

C’mon, Cleveland — you’re better than this! Why copy cities like Chicago and Cincinnati, for God’s sake?  Have some self-respect, and buck the derivative trend!  Recognize that Cleveland is a leader, not a follower.  If you want to do some public art, come up with something original and unique, as befits Cleveland’s rich heritage as a trendsetter, not a camp follower.

In the meantime, can somebody do something with these silly painted electric guitars?  They’re cluttering up the sidewalks.