Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Firebird: Will she survive skateboarders?

At the unveiling Tuesday afternoon of the late Niki de Saint Phalle's sculpture, “Le Grand Oiseau de Feu sur L'Arche” (“The Large Bird of Fire on the Arch”), amid the cheers and greetings and oohing and aahing, a small worry emerged among the spectators: "How are they going to control the vandalism? How will they keep the skateboarders from damaging it?"

I heard this from a high-ranking city staffer, and from the head of one of the city's major cultural organizations, and from other cultural arts types plus some regular folks.

So, taking the opportunity to horn in on colleague Larry Toppman's interview with John Boyer, president of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, I asked him The Skateboard Question. Boyer was unflappable. "Speaking as a skateboarder ... " he began. Turns out, as a California boy, he was a skateboarder. "The best of them know better," he said, "and so I'm just trusting they understand a good thing when they see it."

The "Firebird" sits (squats?) in a plaza in front of the Bechtler on South Tryon Street. It's a sparkling mosaic of glass bits, depicting a bird standing on a large parabolic arch. People were having photos taken standing between its legs. (In the photo above Andreas Bechtler, whose collection forms the museum, is second from left.) A small girl of about 3 was putting her face right up to it to see how the mirrors changed her view. As I stood admiring it, I noticed how the mirrors showed random spots in the scene behind me: Two or three images of City Council member Warren Cooksey looking cheerful, one of Charlotte Symphony President Jonathan Martin looking pensive, and multiple other shards of the scene.

Boyer wasn't at all disturbed by the hands on the glassy sculpture. "When I see those fingerprints on the mirror, that is a beautiful thing," he said.

I asked artist Linda Luise Brown if she knew why Saint Phalle used the arch form. Brown noted Saint Phalle's work had a strong feminist core.
I did more research. I believe it is safe to conclude the Firebird is a "she." One of Saint Phalle's most famous works was the 1966 Hon-En-Katedral ("She-A-Cathedral) in Sweden, where you entered the exhibit by walking between the legs of (i.e. through the vagina of) a reclining woman. Her early works of female forms, were called Nanas. She once said, "For me, they were the symbol of a cheerful, liberated woman. Today, after nearly twenty years, I see them differently. I see them as heralds of a new matriarchal era, which I believe is the only answer."

Tuesday afternoon, people were drawn to the passage between the Firebird's legs. "A new matriarchal era." On South Tryon Street, no less!


Anonymous said...

Seriuosly? skateborders?

Anonymous said...

or the vain uptown crowd!

Anonymous said...

I bet in a year it will be stolen only to turn up in BOA New York HQ.

Anonymous said...

Well...the overly large ginger snap cookies are still standing by the light rail...surely a big ass reflective bird can take it!

rickb said...

Sk8ters are a great contribution to a vibrant city environment.

I remember back in the mid-90's when a little feature called "Artists' Park" occupied a vacant lot at the corner of Tryon and, I believe, 6th Street. It adjoined the Carolina Theater building.

These were the days of the still-dead downtown.

There were brightly-colored pop-art, Warhol-esque graphics mounted on the old masonry walls, and colorful boxes and other geometric shapes were scattered across the ground. They looked as if they were designed to be skateboard ramps.

And, at 10:00 at night, the sk8ters were there, a dozen or more of them, giving life and providing street-level activity to an otherwise dead streetscape. The sound of the wheels and the flurries of motion were so intriguing that they were almost surrealistic.

A city that is so buttoned-down that it rejects participants such as skaters and demands that newspaper boxes be configured into some sort of boring Banker-Approved unified structure that would make East-German planners happy is guaranteed to fail as a street-level destination.

As for damage to "Firebird": I think she is in far more danger from old-fashioned vandals than she is from errant sk8ters. In fact, I hope the children and younger siblings of the Artists' Park Sk8ters are back bringing activity and interest to the new and edgy cultural district.

Anonymous said...

I didn't think there could be something dumber looking than the Wendover onion rings.

I was wrong.

Let's have a vote; does this thing look more like:

(a) The Wicker Man;

(b) the cover of the Flaming Lips' album "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" (http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41P87BKVZXL._SS400_.jpg);

(c) a Disco Chicken.

Anonymous said...

I maintain my original view that skaters and vandals aren't the biggest threat to Firebird. The biggest threat is that someone is going to camp next to it and beg for money from anyone that comes near it.

The beggars are getting bolder here. Had one follow me into the convenience store at the transportation center, wait until I bought something and asked for my change from the purchase. When I declined, he walked right up to the next cat in line and asked for his change as the clerk was giving it to him.

Anonymous said...

A couple of years ago I witness 3 or 4 skateboarders deliberately smashing their skateboards into the large gold "Silver dollar shell" sculpture in front of BankofAmerica Plaza - and police were within 100 yrds - so I didn't strangle them. You can see the dents on the bottom of the sculpture...

Anonymous said...


barkomomma said...

"people were drawn to the passage between the Firebird's legs"

that's just wrong on so many different levels....

Anonymous said...

That's weird, but it either addresses the younger generations lack of respect or their fighting back at the oppressors. Not sure which is more correct.

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