Saturday, June 17, 2006

Wingra Park and Camp Randall public art
projects compared and contrasted

Today the Dudgeon-Monroe Neighborhood Association's "Jazz in the Park" festival -- sponsored by the Laurel Tavern, Monroe Commons, Mallatt Pharmacy & Costume, Orange Tree Imports and the Wingra Canoe & Sailing Center -- was held in Wingra Park. It seems an apt occasion to make a comparison between two works of public art that have been on my mind for some time, since one of the works is actually in Wingra Park.

Title: "Broken but Unbowed"
Location: Wingra Park, Madison, WI
Artist: Mother Nature

This obelisk was sculpted by the artist several years ago when straight-line winds knocked down most of this majestic, ancient oak, nearly hitting the house across the street and leaving only a barren, stark and postmodern section of trunk standing. The wrk acquired its status as public art when the Madison Parks Department made a decision not to cut it down, but to preserve it as an artifact instead. Many consider it to be one of Madison's finest works of public art.

Title: "Nail's Tales"
Location: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI
Artist: Acclaimed artist and UW alum Donald Lipski

The work, commissioned by the Wisconsin Arts Board’s Percent for Art program, was erected on its pedestal at Breese Terrace and Regent Street on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2005.
Called “Nail’s Tales,” the concrete, steel, stone and resin sculpture, uses the ancient form of an obelisk — a form similar in shape to the Washington Monument — from which emerges a towering pile of footballs.

“I tried to make it whimsical and at the same time have a sort of stateliness and elegance that I thought was in keeping with the bigger traditions of the university,” says Lipski, a UW graduate.
The artist's 2000 exhibit, "Donald Lipski: A Brief History of Twine," opened at the old Madison Art Center, which organized it, before traveling to the Blaffer Gallery at the University of Houston and the Chicago Cultural Center.

On the street, "Nail's Tales" was greeted by howling, straight-line winds of laughter and punning sexual references, often employing disease as a metaphor. Local media were not much kinder.

Conclusion to be drawn, if any: When erecting a large, phallic work of public art, use real wood.

1 comment:

Dr Diablo said...

The attempt to combine Artistic Statement with whimsy entails the risk of a pointless result--something neither amusing enough to raise a smile nor moving enough to furrow the brow. Lipski's obelisk perfectly illustrates that risk. Ever since I learned that space is finite, I have resented its occupation by such utterly superfluous objects.

I have wasted no time, though, in composing letters of protest, because the future of the obelisk is foreordained. Just as your dog's homeliness and tendency to snap at children ultimately become aspects of his lovability, the arbitrary idiocy of "Nail's Tales" will cement its iconic status. People will drive out-of-town guests over to Camp Randall to photograph and deplore it. You will be able to buy obelisk paper weights and sweatshirts. Actually, I haven't visited downtown Madison in ages, so, for all I know, my prediction is already reality.

I do, at least, prefer Lipski's obelisk to a bronze of Barry Alvarez on horseback, a development I greatly feared. Barry did a bang-up job as coach, but I would think the ceaseless, lugubrious expressions of gratitude would long since have become tiresome to all but Barry.

Pat Richter, who did at least as much as Barry to revitalize UW sports, has not been the focus of quite so much excess. Maybe people feel that a guy who got to be a handsome college star, play NFL football for Vince Lombardi, and assume the mantle of Crazylegs has already been amply compensated by Life. Maybe they're right.