I seem to be the only person in Madison who really likes this 1983 sculpture by American sculptor Robert Curtis, born in 1948. It's in Law Park between John Nolen Drive and Lake Monona (that's the Monona Terrace Convention Center in the background). It's one of the favorite examples that comes up when someone is bashing public art in Madison. This 1992 Capital Times rant by Jacob Stockinger is typical.
Robert Curtis' 1983 ``Time Keeper'' in Law Park - with its rusted steel beams and plastic arch topped with a motif like the letterhead logos of Madison Teachers Inc. - looks like abandoned leftovers from kids playing with Leggo and Erector sets. ``When are they going to finish it?'' asked two different friends.I beg to disagree. Among other things, I really groove on Timekeeper's playful allusions to such Neolithic "timekeepers" as the monument at Stonehenge -- the observatory of its time that marked the crucial passing of the seasons. To me, the upright rod is suggestive of a sundial. The circular concrete arc suggests the circular shape of other prehistoric monuments (also emphasized by the stone in the center) and recalls the movement of planets around the Zodiac with the passing of the seasons. And above all, Timekeeper is playful. Under its own bright blue bit of stylized, sculpted sky, it seems to invite the viewer to participate in some mysterious, whimsical ritual. Plus, you can sit on it.
One big reason for the negative reaction is, I think, Timekeeper's inaccessible location -- to all but bicyclists, rollerbladers and walkers. To most people, it's a 2-second drive-by on John Nolen Drive -- and this is a work you need to wander in and around to really appreciate. Nor do people have much motivation to take a closer look.
It's hard to find out much about Curtis online, and I suppose that's partly the problem with public reaction to his work -- there's just not a lot of buzz out there. Most of his active career seems to have taken place before everything started to appear online. I did find this brief recent bio blurb from the Indianapolis Art Center, but it's a Google cache html rendition of an MS Word document of unknown provenance, and I'm not sure the link will work on any computer that doesn't have my cookies. Anyhow, this is all it says:
Robert Curtis was born in Susanville, California in 1948. He attended the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona State University, Tempe, and University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. He later taught at the School of Architecture, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He currently resides in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He has exhibited widely through the American Southwest and later, in Wisconsin, including many one-man exhibitions across the country.And in the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture database, I found a brief reference to a 1987 two-piece sculpture called "Gateway" on theUniversity of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie. But it's not a lot to go on, and I can only wonder wonder what happened to Curtis and his career.
Meanwhile, all I can do is to give his Law Park sculpture an affectionate wave every time I pedal past on the Lakeshore Bike Path.
1/31/08 Update: Shot in the snow with a wide angle lens.
6/25/08 Update: A visitor to Madison analyzes the visual text of "Timekeeper."