Thursday, April 22, 2010

At the Madison Children's Museum reading is elevating -- and, at night, illuminating

We were walking around the Farmers's Market last weekend when out of the corner of my eye I saw this girl who was catching some rays and reading while balanced on a rooftop ledge at North Hamilton and the Square. Then I realized the figure was a sculpture. But it seemed to be wrapped in white bandages. What was all that about?

The building is the new home of the Madison Children's Museum (opening Aug. 14). I couldn't find any information at their website but left a message and Jennifer Neuls, director of visitor services, was kind enough to get back to me. The fiberglass sculpture is called "Girl on a Ledge," was made by artist Chris Murphy and funded by a Madison Arts Commission BLINK temporary public art grant. The lights inside the sculpture come on after dark and are powered by a solar panel.

There's a fascinating project blog that has lots of photos of the construction of the sculpture and the body casting it involved, as well as the installation. There's more information about the artist. From the press release:
Artist C Murphy will be unveiling [Mar. 31] a life-size fiberglass figure, poised on the fourth floor parapet of the new Madison Children’s Museum, overlooking the Capitol Square. The Girl is positioned casually, calmly reading a book, her legs dangling over the building’s edge. By day she may go unnoticed, but at nighttime she will be shining brightly, with the aid of solar panels and LED lights. “The surprise and delight that people have with the unexpected discovery of something of beauty and wonder is infectious,” says Christopher Murphy. Those who notice the girl will immediately be delighted by her form. Her precarious location creates tension, yet her commonplace pose implies tranquility.

Murphy’s sculptural obsession began by volunteering on Pail and Shovel’s “Statue of Liberty II” in 1979, a familiar and resilient Madison icon. This transformative event steered Chris into three-dimensional and public artwork. “The public response to this potent symbol impressed me so much that I wanted the direct communication with people that public art affords,” he says.

In 2008, Murphy worked with Milwaukee arts group IN:SITE, to produce a relief sculpture titled “Choros,” a community effort that highlighted the more than 100 victims of gun violence in Milwaukee during the previous year. Murphy has a BFA from UW–Madison and has been exhibiting his works of art regionally and nationwide for the past 20 years.
I love the symbolism of the sculpture -- after all, reading is illuminating. And I really like the playfulness. Downtown can use more of that. A magical public art project, one that will surprise and delight people out of all proportion to its cost.

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