Friday, May 08, 2009

Was Charlotte's Maya Lin piece an early "Wavefield"?

Was Charlotte's not-so-lamented lost artwork "Topo" (above, in happier days) an early incarnation of the undulating earthworks for which artist/architect Maya Lin is now famous?
Read this New York Times article from today about a Lin work, Storm King Wavefield, at the Storm King Art Center in New York. Look at the wavefield. Does it not remind you a bit of the now-demolished "Topo" Lin did early in her career, in Charlotte?
The piece I did about Gumby and public art (read it here) mentioned Maya Lin's landscape art for the now-demolished Charlotte Coliseum on Tyvola Road. When the City Council turned thumbs down on Joel Shapiro's proposed sculpture, a.k.a. "Gumby," the public art commission turned to the young Yale-graduate Lin, who had won worldwide acclaim for her 1982 Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. She and Henry Arnold of Princeton collaborated to create "Topo" – nine large, ball-shaped Burford hollies arranged on an undulating median at the Coliseum. The original plan called for a misting system so the balls would appear to float. That idea was dropped because of its cost.
"Topo" was installed in 1991. It was pleasant, and I always liked the undulating berms, the shaping of which Lin herself supervised on site. But unless you were in a helicopter, it was a bit hard to get the overall sense of "Topo." And it always seemed to me that any sculpture lively enough to have acquired a name even before it was built would have become a kind of beloved civic character – maybe not as beloved as Charlotte Hornet Muggsy Bogues, but beloved nonetheless.
Look at Lin's work since then (somehow, "Topo" doesn't show up on her Web site) and it's clear she has put that undulating earth concept at the center of much of her recent work. Storm King Wavefield looks magnificent – like a mature and confident version of the baby version in "Topo." As Lin's fame has grown, "Topo" might well have become notable simply for being one of her earliest.
The city sold the Coliseum for private development, and the building was imploded in 2007. The new owners tried unsuccessfully to find someone to adopt "Topo" and its nine hollies. "Topo" was demolished in 2008. The photo below shows the work in its last days.


Anonymous said...

You refer to "Topo" as the "not-so-lamented lost artwork.

What you fail to mention is that when the artwork was approved, there was a city wide search for beautiful mature hollies which would be used. It was estimated that the nine hollies were very old, perhaps a hundred years old. They were dug up and transported to the site.

When it became known that the coliseum would be demolished, there were a few articles in the Observer, mentioning that the hollies would be demolished as well.

It was estimated that it would have cost the city only about $100,000 to dig them up and move them to other locations...perhaps a park uptown, or someplace else...someplace where they could possibly have lived for another hundred years. So many places could have benefited from their presence.

But no, the city was too chintzy to do this, resulting in what I consider a major loss. Never mind "art." These were beautiful hollies, and deserved better.

The city can spend hundreds of thousands on public art, a lot of which the public pays little attention to after the initial installation. But Charlotte was too shortsighted to preserve something that was naturally beautiful and beneficial to the environment as well. The old hollies were unique. Think of how beautiful they would have looked in a park uptown. Think of how pretty they would have been when decorated with lights at Christmas.

Charlotte cares so much about "art" in a superficial sense, like "look at us, see how cosmopolitan we are?", but apparently it only cares about it if it is created by humans rather than nature.

Charlotte screwed up big time. Shame on the people who let it happen.

Mary said...

The destruction of the Coliseum was a waste. It's one reason I have little confidence in the government. I'd rather they just concentrate on the basics, like clean water, putting out fires and police protection.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:14 I totally agree. Government is wasteful and inefficient.

Jumper said...

So it's all over. The old coliseum has been built, paid for, demolished, and the site sold.

Money was spent, money was made, and then it ended. I would love to see the total balance sheet. Did we lose money, make money, break even?

I have a feeling I will never get to see that balance sheet.

Wavefield: is it more turf monoculture, soaked in Roundup and sprayed with synthetic fertilizers, overwatered and then mowed regularly by smog-emitting internal combustion engines like a golf course? Did it cause the sterilization of newts and frogs?

Anonymous said...

After looking at Storm King Wavefield, I think Maya Lin is missing out on some great marketing opportunities. If I were her, I'd follow the pro golf tour, then sell wavefields to the course owners.

Can you imagine how much more interesting this year's Quail Hollow Open would have been if golfers had to make their way through those undulations on fairways 16-18? In fact, why didn't QHCC or the TPC at Piper Glen buy all or parts of her ToPo as hazards? They would have made those golf courses more challenging and offered some interesting art at the same time.

Anonymous said...

I agree that “Topo” was pleasant, but it only conveyed the artist’s concept if you viewed it precisely at the right spot or in the right light, or from that helicopter Mary mentioned. In other words, if you were a tourist or a local visiting the old Coliseum in daylight, happened to enter through that side of the complex, and had no prior knowledge of that artwork, you wouldn’t even notice it. “Gee, big round bushes” is likely the thought to be evoked, if any, from the back of one’s mind.

It was a great idea, but was it worth the cost to taxpayers? I still maintain that art, in the broadest sense, does not belong on taxpayer property, and if it is somehow put there, it shouldn’t be paid for by taxpayers. The Storm King Art Center is a non-profit educational organization. The vast bulk of its funding comes from the private Ralph E. Ogden Foundation, Inc., corporate contributions, foundation grants, individual donations, membership and admission fees, and museum shop proceeds. Yes, some does come from “government”, although the Storm King website doesn’t give a breakdown.

The National Endowment for the Arts states that “only” 13% of arts funding in the United States comes from taxpayer monies: 9% federal, 3% local and 1% state. Since even the NEA admits that public funding is a drop in the bucket, why not make it 0%? The arts community will still thrive from private donations, especially because of the generous tax deductions our tax code allows. On the other hand, we live in a state (NC) that can’t even pay timely tax refunds for lack of revenue, a city (Charlotte) that doesn’t have the money to adequately maintain infrastructure, and a nation where one out of every four dollars I earn goes to someone else, somewhere else.

Maya Lin’s wavefields and outdoor sculptures like those at Storm King Art Center would make a great fit for an open-to-the-public-but-privately-financed venture such as nearby Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens. Or how about putting a wavefield and sculptures on all that vacant land at the U. S. National Whitewater Center right here in Mecklenburg County? Surely that would attract more admission-paying persons to an outstanding, but financially flagging, taxpayer-funded facility.

Vince from Valdese said...

Someone above wrote that it would have cost the city "only" $100,000 to dig up and move Topo to a new location.

For $10,000, my brother-in-law Bubba and I would have taken one day off from our log-hauling schedule and would have driven down from Valdese to move those shrubs to a safe place.

You high-buck city folk and government types sure have an inflated sense of what something should cost, or, in the case of art, what something is worth.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Vince, I see what you mean.

If it's "shrubs", it's $10,000.

If it's "art", it's $100,000.

Anonymous said...

Some kids have taken to driving through the lawns in our neighborhood after the recent rains, maliciously leaving deep and unsightly tire tracks on otherwise well-maintained property.

At first I was infuriated. But now I'm convinced that "Tire Undulations with Dandelions" is artwork which will add at least $250,000 to my real estate's value when I'm ready to sell.

Anonymous said...

If the city or county insists on being in the art business, maybe they should appoint an Art Czar who also has some common sense.

Here an example of the potential benefit: The czar comes up with an idea, say something similar to Maya Lin’s wavefield. The czar calls up Farmer Brown, and says “we’ll pay you $5,000 to plow some really big furrows at Romare Bearden Park. Here are the dimensions.” Farmer Brown rushes to the site to earn such good pay. The czar saves us hundreds of thousands of dollars for what he then could call artwork.

Problem is, after reading in today’s Observer about the 33% increase in city officials pulling down six-figure salaries, the czar’s probable salary would wipe out any savings.

Vince from Valdese said...

Bubba and I would gladly change jobs, move to Charlotte and fill two of those city jobs for $50,000 each. Having driven on those undulating Charlotte streets, having fled some of your floods, and having marveled at your tax rate, we gather that our lack of government experience will probably be a plus.

Anonymous said...

Mary, since you answer a comment about the word "czar", is it reasonable to ask why you have NEVER - not once - answered a comment asking how you propose to PAY for any of your proposals?

The US is $12 trillion in debt, Obama's budget plan adds another $10 trillion through 2019, plus the feds have backstopped another $10.4 trillion and there are $53 trillion (minimum) in unfunded future liabilities.

I will leave it to you to do the math to figure out what each US household's share of those debts is. And then I will ask you:

Where is the money going to come from? This is a far more serious issue than the use of the word "czar", and I hope you'll agree it deserves your attention.

Where is the money going to come from?


consultant said...

American capitalism as expressed by most of our transnational corporations and copied (and envied) by many smaller business folks, has mutated into a Borg, Romulon, Klingon like alien beast. Something to be feared.

The only thing it cares about is the bottom line-period. It has no future or past. It cares about neither. It only has now. What are you doing for the bottom line-NOW!

Obviously, this is a business culture that has no future.

Anonymous said...

You have to remember that Maya Lin was educated in the Ivy League. Those types are much more intelligent, creative and capable -remember her fellow Yale alum George W. Bush, or Barack "I've Got a Gift" Obama - than those who matriculated at "state" colleges. Therefore they deserve to make more money from their endeavors. They also have to recoup all that over-inflated tuition cost as well.

Anonymous said...

To Annoying Cut-And-Paste Anon at 01:02 PM:

Can you explain your logic in concluding that Mary’s feedback to a previous comment several topics ago requires her to reply to your unreasonable and illogical question? Do you have any concept of determining when something is opinion or just plain reporting, as opposed to it being a "proposal"?

You erroneously state that Mary’s COMMENTS are “PROPOSALS”. Those proposals come from a wide variety of people or organizations, not from Mary. And Mary is not responsible for determining how this region’s “proposals” will be funded, nor is it her job to express views that only you find suitable.

In this free country she should be able to comment on something without harassment, and you should be able to express your opinion as well, which you have. But nowhere does the Constitution grant you the right to be obnoxious, vicious bullying and stupid.

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Rebecca said...

Mary did you really just post "It's one reason I have little confidence in the government. I'd rather they just concentrate on the basics, like clean water, putting out fires and police protection."
Wow! How very libertarian of you! Maybe there is hope...

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Government is wasteful and inefficent.