Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The lonely exile of William King's "Act"

"Act" by William King
This 1979 work of public art stands in lonely splendor in Olbrich Park on Madison's east side, an isolated silhouette alongside Lake Monona. The figures reach toward the sun, seeking something just out of reach. Public appreciation, perhaps?

I used to really hate this thing back when it was wedged into its old location just off State Street next to the old Civic Center, jammed into a narrow stretch of sidewalk on Henry Street. The aluminum sculpture had no discernible connection to the site, other than the bolts that secured the base. I wasn't alone in thinking that the $45,000 work was an unpleasant afterthought that didn't really belong where it had been plunked down. "Act" had few fans and many foes. Doug Moe explained how the figures got to Olbrich in the Capital Times last fall.
William King's giant aluminum sculpture, titled "Act," was originally behind the old Civic Center at the Dayton Street entrance. Local attorney and businessman Fred Mohs so disliked the piece that he put up $5,000 of his own money to have it moved to Olbrich Park.

Mohs told Channel 3's Joel Despain, "I said this was 10,000 aluminum cans yearning to be free."
During its time as art-in-residence downtown, that was a typical reaction. In the snarky overview of public art in Madison he wrote 15 years ago, Jacob Stockinger also had nothing good to say about it.
William King's 1979 ``Act,'' the outsized aluminum cookie cutter figures in Olbrich Park, remains an embarrassing $45,000 cutout worthy of blunt-nose scissors from Miss Frances' Ding Dong School.
That seems a bit harsh now. With room to breath and since it no longer comes off as a potentially dangerous obstacle on a narrow downtown sidewalk, "Act" doesn't evoke such hostile passion anymore. It has taken on that patina of age that often leads to affection. As I framed it in the camera, I realized I had become kind of fond of it. And William King, now 82, turns out to be a fairly interesting artist.


Anonymous said...

"Act" was never sited the way the artist wanted it sited. The city "pine trees" won the appropriate location(s) - and the artisit, along with others, compromised and took what the city was willing to give. And the city displayed its artistic insight again when responding to the Mohs political power(at the time)and his money.

The artist is a very talented and interesting person. The Wisconsin boat builders who fabricated the piece are also extremely skilled and interesting people.

Isn't it wonderful that the piece can still invoke comments and opinions so many years after erection - not once, but twice!
While still sited incorrectly!

But, that's what public art is suppose to do, isn't it.

Dr Diablo said...

Call me a snob, but I only admire pieces of public art that are better than what I could do. This chunk of junk fails the test. A better site yet would be somewhere deep within the Nicolet Forest, although a landfill is it's true home.

The soft metal should readily lend itself to prankish acts of vandalism. For example, with a few twists, the metal men could be made to wave "bye-bye." I have a professional image to maintain and cannot afford the risk of a citation; however, there must be somebody reading this who has nothing to lose.

Anonymous said...

dr shoulda-woulda-coulda says, "....public art that are better than what I could do."

But you didn't!

Are you encouraging any vandalizing for the public art on Regent St sited in front of one of Randy's buildings? Perhaps it's a work of yours?