The Arnold At The Arnold

Columbus has a new statue, and it’s a whopper.

Yesterday — with the Arnold Sports Festival in full swing — the City dedicated this colossal rendering of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  It’s located outside the Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, where many of the Arnold events are held, just across the river from downtown Columbus.

The statue is a depiction of Arnold in his full Mr. Olympia glory — huge fists clenched, muscles bulging, rope-like veins popping everywhere, face set in impassive concentration, in the pose that Arnold made famous.  It is somewhat larger than life, although still smaller than the statue of Christopher Columbus in front of City Hall.  I suppose that’s only appropriate, although if you took a vote of the people who are in Columbus right now, Arnold would easily outpoll Chris for the top spot in the Most Titanic Figure contest.

The statue has a pretty good likeness of Arnold’s face, which is why it inevitably brings to mind — uncomfortably, in my book — the Terminator movies.  I look at the statue and expect the metallic Arnold to turn his head slowly, focus with a red mechanical eye, then step off the pedestal and begin slaughtering the masses in his search for Sarah Connor.

Modern Art Along The Scioto Mile

Columbus wants to complete its Scioto Mile Park with a monumental sculpture.  The plan is to add a large piece of artwork along the riverfront that will become as identifiable with Columbus as the Gateway Arch is with St. Louis and the Space Needle is with Seattle.

The proposed piece would be abstract, six stories tall, made of reflective metal, and shaped like . . . the cooling tower of a nuclear plant.  Not surprisingly, some people are questioning that design.

I like the idea of putting a large piece of public art along the Scioto Mile.  I think it should be a bold statement, not some timid, compromise product of a committee.  We don’t need another realistic sculpture like the big statue of Christopher Columbus in front of City Hall.  I’m not sure how I feel about the “cooling tower” design — it seems like the shape is so defined with nuclear plants that viewers won’t really see or think of anything else — but I’m willing to reserve judgment if that is the piece that is selected.

Anyone who has been to Millennium Park in Chicago knows that people are attracted to large, memorable public art pieces like “the Bean.”  If the “cooling tower” is interesting, fun to look at, well made, and allows for interesting photo opportunities, people will go see it — and that, after all, is the idea.

Mosquito In Our Midst

I’m all for public art, but I found this piece unappealing.  Called “ShutterBug,” and created by PR Miller, it can be found perched on its long, spindly legs on a street corner next to a parking lot in downtown Canton, Ohio.  It looks like a mosquito rising from a fetid pool of water, ready to slake its thirst for blood.  Just looking at it made me want to slap the back of my neck.

Cleveland’s Free Stamp

Another piece of modern public art that I really like is Free Stamp, a large painted steel and aluminum sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen.  For years, Free Stamp has graced a small park along East Ninth Street in Cleveland, just south of the expressway that separates the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum from the rest of downtown.

Why do I like Free Stamp?  Because this is a whimsical sculpture that will inevitably grow more interesting as time goes by.  When the sculpture was created, paper was the preferred medium of business, and ink pads and stamps that said things like “Paid” and “Handle with Care” were used routinely.  Of course, in the business world you wouldn’t need a stamp that said “Free,” so the sculpture was a bit of a joke.  But now, as paper has gone the way of the Dodo and electronic transmissions are in vogue, I doubt that any business buys or even uses stamps anymore.  And that is what will make this sculpture even more interesting in years to come.  What will people who grow up in the age of email and the cloud, and in the ages of even more advanced communications forms to come, think when they see this giant sculpture, and will they even dimly understand what it is supposed to be?

Best Modern Public Art Ever

I love public art, but I’m not a huge fan of most modern public art.  With few exceptions — the Calder works come to mind — a lot of the public modern art looks like rusting hunks of junk that people tend to avoid, whereas the whole concept of public art is to engage and, perhaps inspire, the passerby.

On the square in the Les Halles area of Paris, in front of the St. Eustache Cathedral, there is a large stone or concrete ovoid head and hand.  As we walked through the square multiple people engaged with the whimsical head and hand, and in different, interesting ways.  People took pictures, people examined it, people posed with it.  There was even graffiti sprayed on the back of the head. It’s one of the more successful pieces of public modern art that I’ve seen.

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (IX)

The most recent addition to the Ohio Statehouse grounds — and the final stop on our periodic tour of public art outside the Statehouse — is the Ohio Veterans Plaza, located east of the Statehouse at the Third Street entrance.

The Ohio Veterans Plaza is framed by two curved limestone walls that face each other from the opposing ends of the Plaza.  Each wall is fronted by a fountain and a bed of red, white, and blue flowers.  Between the two walls stretch green rectangular lawns studded with flagpoles and embedded stones with the names of each of Ohio’s 88 counties.

The grounds are lovely, but it is the inscriptions on the facing limestone walls that pack the emotional punch.  The inscriptions are taken from letters from or about soldiers during wartime.  The letters range from the abrupt commanding officer’s notification of grief-stricken relatives of the death of a loved one on Iwo Jima, to heartfelt efforts to explain why wars are necessary, to expressions of love — son to parents, father to son, and husband to wife — written in the shadow of likely death, to more humorous descriptions of the life of a soldier.  It is impossible to read even a few of the letters and not be moved by the sacrifice of those who have fought on our behalf.

As poignant as most of the letters are, my favorite is the letter from Fred, a young man who wanted to let his family back on the farm know about the wonders of the Jeep and how it could make old Kate — no doubt the family plow horse — “look sick.”  It is somehow reassuring to know that, among all the death and devastation and trauma of World War II, one stalwart Ohio farm boy was focused on the future and how a rough and tumble vehicle could make his life in the fields a bit easier.

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (VIII)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (VII)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (VI)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (V)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (IV)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (III)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (II)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (I)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (VII)

At the intersection of walkways at the southwest corner of the Statehouse is the Christopher Columbus Discovery Plaza, which features a rendering of the intrepid explorer, and the capital city’s namesake, atop a granite base and fountain.

The Christopher Columbus Discovery Plaza came together gradually.  The hollow copper statue of Columbus was created first and initially was found on the old campus of the Pontifical College Josephinium.  It was donated to the state in 1932 and erected on the Statehouse grounds at that time.  In 1992, as part of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage, the granite base and fountain were constructed.  In front of Columbus appears the statement:  “The spirit of discovery has the power to change the course of human history, as demonstrated by the voyages of Christopher Columbus, whose imagination shattered the boundaries of the western world.  Modern history has been shaped by one man’s courage to pursue a dream.”

Statues of Columbus all seems to look the same, with old Chris looking down on a sphere, usually with a frown on his face and some seafaring instruments nearby.  The Statehouse statue is along the same lines.  It doesn’t make Columbus seem like the kind of person with whom you’d like to share a long sea voyage.

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (VI)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (V)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (IV)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (III)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (II)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (I)