Monday, March 10, 2008

Corrosive tears, flowing like the passing of time

Corrosive Tears, Flowing Like Time Itself
Definitely showing the ravages of time, as well as our avian population, this is one of my favorite works of public art in Madison, in one of my favorite places -- the Madison Public Library's courtyard on West Mifflin Street. It's called "Hieroglyph," and it's been there since 1964, the year the library opened. It's a hammered copper sculpture by Beloit artist O. V. Shaffer.

The figure above is just a detail of the larger sculpture on the right, a mostly abstract work that has several figures embedded in it, although you have to look for them. They're not immediately visible as you go up the front steps on Mifflin. "Hieroglyph" was surveyed in 1993 by the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Inventory of American Sculpture. Here's what their database said about the sculpture's condition at the time.
Condition: Surveyed 1993 March. Treatment needed.
That was 15 years ago. I know that art preservation isn't particularly sexy and doesn't score a lot of political points, but I hope the preservation budget can be boosted in years to come to something more closely approximating the real need. What's the point of putting up more and more new public art, only to have entropy erode it all too soon? Nothing lasts forever, but our public art deserves a chance to be seen and enjoyed before it fades away.

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