Thursday, May 27, 2010

'Tryon Bridge Towers' artist did WWII Memorial

What ARE those things on South Tryon Street? The two metallic structures erected just past the Big O building at the bridge over I-277, are not, as you might have thought, witches-hat-derived homage to the show "Wicked." They are a gift from the Queens Table, a group of anonymous – and apparently wealthy and influential – public art donors who have brought us the Socialist-realist monuments at The Square.

Update 3:30 PM - The artist is Friedrich St.Florian, an architect based in Providence, R.I. He designed the World War II Memorial in Washington. Here's a link to a series of photos of the works being installed. The current name appears to be "Tryon Bridge Towers."

Here's a link (courtesy of the folks at CLTblog) to a presentation to the City Council in April 2009. It explains the Queens Table: "A small group of anonymous donors established the Queen’s Table Fund in 1991 to celebrate Charlotte by quietly finding and filling needs that are not otherwise being met to enhance aesthetics and quality of life in the City." (May I suggest that art teachers for CMS could be an unfilled need for the next decade?)

Among their prior gifts, in addition to the four statues at The Square, are the Queen Charlotte at the airport (often described as "going into the lane for the layup") and "Aspire," the bronze on Kings Drive outside the Temple of Karnak-sized new Central Piedmont Community College building. I have come to love the airport statue, I confess. "Aspire" will have to grow on me. The things at The Square are an embarrassment, art as envisioned by aging CFOs, perhaps. (No I don't know who really selected them.)

I am checking in with Jean Greer, Vice President of Public Art at the Arts & Science Council to see what she knows. (Update: Jean tells me the project didn't go through the ASC Public Art Commission although she knew about it through Charlotte Center City Partners. It sits on N.C. DOT property, she says. The N.C. DOT is in the process of crafting an art policy for state rights-of-way.)

Jean is one of the lucky souls who gets to stand up at occasional City Council dinner meetings and give presentations on current public art projects and endure silly jokes from council member Andy Dulin and – for the 14 years he was mayor – Pat McCrory. McCrory buttonholed me last week at the James Jack statue unveiling to say he requires two things of public art for him to like it: You don't have to be high to "get it" and it shouldn't be something a 5th-grader could do. He approved of Chas Fagan's James Jack statue.

I don't know about this new work. At first, as I went past for several weeks I kept thinking it was some odd NCDOT construction equipment abandoned to the weeds. Then it became clear it was "art."

Pardon me for sounding like McCrory but this one reminds me of robotic equipment, as portrayed on "The Jetsons," or possibly a depiction of the trash compactors on Darth Vader's Death Star. It does not make my heart soar. If anything, it destroys any soaring my heart might have been inclined to do. (Not that a soaring heart is likely as you walk across the bleak, Sahara-like I-277 bridge.)

Annual cost to the city, for maintenance, such as mowing, planting, electricity: $ 8,450.


pb1q2 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Propositor said...

I thought they were torch cauldrons. You know, for our future bid for the summer Olympics... That annual price tag for maintenance seems insanely high. Reminds me of when I got married and despite having a gift registry full of stuff we needed, relatives still got us expensive useless ornamental plates and vases that we have no place to put in our 800 sqft apartment. Thank you?

heavymetal said...

You mean they aren't new-age satellite dishes?
Seriously, I was going to leave a Speak'N'Spell and an old record player there for ET, should he need it.

Danimal said...

I would assume you and McCrorey don't like the 'Disco Chicken' in front of the Bechtler based on this review. Perhaps a replica of an old firehouse or a statue of James Kunstler would be more to your liking. Seriously though, many locals of the time hated the Wiffel Tower, the Canals of Venice and the Guggenheim Museum when they were built. All three items grew on the community and eventually became treasured assets. Also, a little provocation in this staid, conservative city is always a good thing. Ruffling the feathers makes things fun every once in a while. meanwhile, I will ride the light rail past the 'oatmeal cookies' and the 'pink building' this evening to see what Voltron (that crazy light tower on the other side of the Observer Mary) does tonight.

nahicks said...

I thought it was one of those larger than life Transformer toys. Transforming into what I have not idea!

Samuel said...

If anything, public art should spark conversation and debate. I don't think you could find any piece of artwork that someone wouldn't have something bad to comment on. As long as it's not patently offensive to any one group, any publicly displayed art should be welcomed. Particularly when funded by private donors. Why do we all like "Mona Lisa" or "The Sistine Chapel"? Mostly brainwashing through years of our elders telling us that's "art"

Mary Newsom said...

Dear Danimal: I love the "Firebird."
Dear pb1q2: Repost your comment without the personal insult, please.
Dear Samuel: I totally agree. The debate is half the fun.

And here's a comment from an artist I know: "Yipes. I was going to ask you what those things were going to be for. Now I find out they're not 'for' anything. Queens Table folks are the apostles of kitsch. And McCrory should be educated enough to know, if anyone can get it, it's not worth getting."

tarhoosier said...

I have been past it numerous times and assumed it was a direction board or display for downtown attractions and events. I kept waiting for the digital board to be revealed. I never, never assumed it was art. I think that should be the third criterion

Jason said...

This was clearly inspired by the Bus Stop Art movement of the 60s. Art is what the 'Artist' declares to be art, while artists themselves are self declared. Let the creator categorize it as they wish but don't shove it in our face. It all starts with parents being too encouraging.

J said...

Some needed definitions:

ARTIST: An individual with a severe distaste for societal norms in clothing, house design and a regular job.

ART: Anything that an ARTIST makes, by gawd, and don't you dare question him/her!

PUBLIC ART: Any piece of crap created by an ARTIST that no one on Earth wants to buy, and therefore it is required to be purchased by the government with taxpayer dollars.

The ARTIST, as well as the politician who is the main driver behind the taxpayer-funded purchase of the ART that was rejected by buyers in the private sector, will gleefully tell you that without PUBLIC ART, the city is less of a city, and that any individuals who don't like it are lower life forms than the ones who do.

Michael said...

Ya'll wait here. I'm going to go look at iy, and then make a comment

Mary Newsom said...

Dear J:
This particular art was not paid for by government. Queens Table is private money.

Also, my momma wouldn't let me say "crap." Be thankful I'm in a good mood today. Next time keep it clean. Thanks much.

Danimal said...

Oh come on Mary. How can you like the 'disco chicken' yet not this new piece off I-277. Many of our colleagues could argue that and 5th grader could take a bunch of pieces of broken mirrors and make a bird design out of them. I guess it comes down to which philanthropists you like and which ones you don't. Personally, I fully support anything that adds color to the city and provokes self proclaimed establishment types. I look forward to going out today and checking out the new ornaments off Tryon. I guess we should all rest easy that a 'developer' didn't plunk that sculpture there. I could only imagine what your rant would be in this blog if that was the case.

Michael Solender said...

Good art, bad art as long as it starts dialogue and generates discussion it serves its purpose, IMHO. Parisians hated the Eiffel Tower I'm told, so there you have it. I'll take the unpopular view and state that I like them, like what they symbolize and have respect and admiration for a group of private donors that feel so strong about public art they are willing to finance it while public funding and the city/county budget for arts is slashed left and right. Re: The Four Statues at Independence Square, again I'll be contrary and say the symbolism captured there is a credit to the region and the Queen City - for the back-story I'll point you and your readers to a piece I wrote here:

Mary Newsom said...

I like Firebird because it sparkles - and it has a somewhat mystical quality of drawing people to it. There are ALWAYS people having their photo made there.

Here's something I'll get major grief for: I like the Thomas Sayre "onion rings" at Wendover and Randolph. I like the texture, and the evocative shape (modeled on magnolia seed pods). That one was developer art - Clay Grubb.

I believe the Pomodoro "Il Grande Disco" at The Square was developer-funded as well (NCNB?), but I'm not sure. I like it too, though it was better when it spun around ... I also like the statue of "Miss Anne and Dan" by Elsie Shaw, now at Queens University - privately funded. I'm less keen on Shaw's Hugh McManaway sculpture in the median of Queens Road, though people have sort of adopted it in order to dress it up, which is fun.

Michael said...

I personally love it. Provides a dramatic gateway to Uptown while giving the cultural campus a sense of place and authority.

"You are arriving someplace important!", it screams.

Photos don't do it justice. You have to go and "feel" it (much like the pyramids in Giza).

EuroCat said...

Well...I guess this little flap really does illustrate what "art" is all about.

For example, I have a lot more respect for Mary's aesthetic sense than I do for Pat McCrory's...yet I sort of like the Queens Table's piece of stray construction equipment, while the Cap'n Jack sculpture is, to me...well, just another statue of a dude riding a horse.

So, people often disagree on what constitutes "art"...on what is visually and aesthetically interesting...on what is ugly...on what is beautiful...on what is boring...on what "moves the soul".

Clearly the "Disco Chicken" is immensely popular with the masses; I have never walked by the Bechtler when I haven't seen people taking pictures of their friends and family posed around the sculpture. I mean never.

And I like it, Mary and I agree on that one.

I'll have to visit South Tryon Street and see if the thing looks as interesting "in person" as it does in pictures. And no matter what, I'll acknowledge that the whole point of "art" is really its effect on viewers, not the object itself.

streuber said...

I have a redneck neighbor down the street that kept junk like that in his yard for years, and then the city came, cited him and ordered him to clean up the junk or they would condem the property. I see he found a sucker to buy it all. Way to go Charlotte, now your a "world class" junk city.

joe said...

Mary, Clay has caught some greif over the "onion rings"
Everytime I see them, I think they are going to roll away.

Jumper said...

It appears to be a death-ray focusing device, surreptitiously placed by Al Qaeda or Halliburton or someone like that, merely masquerading as art.

But for a death-ray focuser, it looks pretty rad!

Mark said...

I don't know if I like it or hate it but I do know I'm willing to wait until the installation is complete and lit before judging it.

CJU said...

My biggest beef with this art is this...

WHY in the world did they go from two lanes leaving the city to ONE! Hello! Its a busy road and now there is a choke point??

As for the art, I look at it everyday. I drop my wife off, then pass by it. I'm anxious to see what it will end up looking like versus what I have envisioned it will be..

And art is strictly in the eye of the beholder. Same as beauty. Some like, some don't.

heavymetal said...

CJU raised a point I hadn't considered... perhaps they reconfigured those lanes to lend focus to the new "art."
Standing either at the Stonewall or Morehead intersections it'll lend a 3-D effect.

Mary Newsom said...

The reconfiguration of Tryon isn't related to the art. The art was positioned by a private group, with the permission of the NCDOT.

The reason the city is reconfiguring South Tryon is precisely because that segment is NOT busy. I work right there and even at rush hour that part of S.Tryon is very lightly traveled.

heavymetal said...

Sorry, Mary-- that was sarcasm.

The most foot traffic I've ever seen there (other than for major sporting events) was the Sept 11, 2001 exodus from Uptown.

I work right there, too-- and you're right that there's never been much vehicular traffic on that stretch... which is contradictory to those that championed for more bike & pedestrian right-of-way for safety on that stretch of South Tryon. I found that argument quite laughable.

On a note about the artist: The WWII Memorial in DC is a beautiful thing worthy of deep contemplation of the sacrifices made by our Greatest Generation.
But, in my opinion, it's a memorial, it isn't "art."

consultant said...

If the "top kill" doesn't work, I vote we donate this piece of art to stop the leak.

The pointy part at the top will do the trick.

JAT said...


You can delete the "dear-queens-table-please-stop" hed and replace it with the more respectful and less critical "'Tryon Bridge Towers' artist did WWII Memorial" hed, but the URL still tells us you've soften your critique and not exactly explained to readers as to why.

I still think they are laughable junk no matter the name or the bio behind them.

Mary Newsom said...

Dear JAT - I changed the headline as a newsy update to reflect the new content - who did the work and his "claim to fame," if you will.
I figured someone would accuse me of softening it.

But in truth I just couldn't figure out a way to squeeze in the who-did-it and retain the earlier one - and not have the headline running 6 lines long.

Don said...

I like the 4 sculptures on the square - I don't see those as an embarrassment at all. I think the 'glitter bird' might look nice in a disco club, or maybe in Vegas. I'm really not quite sure what to make of the dual laser/radar dishes. Seems strange even for art.

That said, beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder.

ThrowDownYourLeavyScreens said...

From the looks of these pictures, there are several Grande Discos around the world. In 2005, I got to see the one in Milan, Italy (which I think is the original Grande Disco). It's right in front of you when you exit the Brera green-line metro station.

And don't forget that Thomas Sayre and the taxpayers of the Great State of Mecklenburg also gave us the Scaleybark Sand Dollars too.

Chainsaw said...

Regarding the comment about socialist realism:

"Socialist realism is a style of realistic art which developed under Socialism in the Soviet Union and became a dominant style in other communist countries. Socialist realism is teleologically-oriented style which has as its purpose the furtherance of the goals of socialism and communism."

It's really embarrassing to realize how the communists infected our country so deeply - only thing worse is how few people now can even identify socialism and communism in action. It's such a joke. Our country's toast.

Propositor said...

Socialist Realism is supposed to glorify the role of the poor and I'm not sure that any of the art really does that. Plus, by that definition the Statue of Liberty would be the most socialistic monument in America.

Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
' With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

We are a free and open society that will not stand for an authoritarian government. We may from time to time enact measures that lean more liberal or conservative but we do so by consent of the majority. Our country, however, will never fall prey to a government that denies the people freedom of expression or access to unfettered information.

Fears of such a circumstance are unfounded.

Jumper said...

Off topic, but this is too cool: board train without train stopping.

Propositor said...

Very cool Jumper. The Chinese are going to rule the world.

J said...

Mary - I guess I should have qualified my comment with a note that I was making comments on "art" in general, rather than about this specific item. I did see in your post that these structures were privately-held and donated.

As for my description of art, I don't think it was a dirty word; there are a lot worse. I guess Pat McCrory has rubbed off on me (as fond as he was of that word while he was doing mayoral business, he was even fonder of it here inside the Duke Energy offices :-) ).

Jumper said...

Looks like a big satellite antenna to me. I see them everywhere, though, so the sculpture does not seem new or interesting to me.

Faux functionality does not grab me. But then again, I don't like Ace of Cakes either. They don't REALLY look edible.