True North: Take a Stroll Down Heights Boulevard for This Outdoor Exhibition
Heights Boulevard has a broad median running from 4th Street to 20th Street, with grass and sporadic metal seating facilities, in effect, a series of mini-parks, and these are being used to great advantage as the venue for an outdoor sculpture exhibition titled "True North, Sculpture on the Boulevard," with one major piece by each of eight artists.
Instead of a gallery walk, I had a gallery "drive," proceeding south to north on the boulevard, parking about every two blocks to savor the art. It was my good luck that my visit coincided with that of a family doing the same thing, two parents opening the eyes of their 11-year-old to art, and it was a delight to see their appreciation. Here was art for all ages, as a sense of humor linked the artists, and the works often sparkled with wit.
Between 4th and 5th streets is Wildlife Sanctuary by Dan Havel. This is the sculpture that most organically seems to belong. It might be the turret of a church, now sunken into the ground at an odd angle, or it might have been carried there by alluvial silt as a great river overflowed. It reminded me of the head of the Statue of Liberty, half-buried, at the end of Planet of the Apes.
There is no cross on the rusted spire, so it just as well may be the top attic of a farmhouse, with slotted openings for cross-ventilation. Some of these are closed, and some open, holding and spilling bird seed, justifying the work's title. The building is of wood, and the roof is slate, with some pieces loose and seemingly about to fall. The art encapsulates the energy of decline and neglect, and yet the birdseed offers hope. I didn't see any birds, but I hope they come.
Between 6th and 7th streets is Pointing North by Carter Ernst, a gargantuan dog about six feet tall and eight feet long, a setter that has found its prey and is indicating the location. But it's not a purebred; it is composed of fiberglass, various cloths, some vinyl and some fur — apparently a mongrel, a very mixed breed. Its stance is the familiar one seen in many paintings and photographs of English country life, but this ragamuffin would not be permitted to lounge by the hearth. Yet its instincts survive, and it points, correctly, north, confident that this and its size will overcome any flaws in its genetic makeup.
Between 8th and 9th streets is Cypress Flower by Lee Littlefield, a yellow and orange sculpture about ten feet tall that to me echoed both a flower and a flamingo. Its curves are free-flowing, it sings of spring and delight in beauty, and it adds its romance, grace and alien sprightliness in contrast to its soft green surroundings.
Between 9th and 10th streets is Folded Plane by Ed Wilson; a stainless-steel folded "paper" airplane, playfully tossed by unseen giants, seems to have crashed into the soft earth. Its significance lies in its unexpected size, and the depth of its impalement suggests it was tossed by a huge and powerful hand — I scurried on, lest I be there when its owner came to retrieve it.
At 12th Street is Lawn Chairs by Paul Kittleson, offering the familiar look of the inexpensive and portable seating facility, yet amusing us because these chairs are several times the size of the ones you may have in your garage. If you did clamber into them — do not, since the signs say "Do Not Touch" — you would find yourself insignificant, in the words of William Butler Yeats, "a tattered coat upon a stick." So smile and move on, before the chairs are occupied.
At 14th Street is From the Hood to the Heights by Patrick Medrano, a small green barn-like building supported by eight huge metal oars, a version of Noah's ark. It resonates of a personal journey, navigating above the tide of society. Its combination of colors seems just right, and I'm sure its oars, though embedded now, will be able to pull free and propel it forward when the need arises. It is truly beautiful, and I would love to see a patron provide Medrano with the funds to rebuild it to ten times its present size, straddling a plaza, so we could walk between the oars and wonder at genius.
At 17th Street is There Are Things You Can't Get from Books by Steve Murphy, a sculptured slab that is subtly shaped, one end rounded, and varying in its thickness, dark brown in color. Of them all, this work is the one that might show better in a museum, since its nuances seduce rather than dominate. It is clear that this was made by a master craftsman with an eye for unexpected beauty.
At 18th Street is Ourglass by Dean Ruck, two oblong teardrops of glass, one over the other, composed of circles of reflective material on an open structure. The top circles reflect the sky, the bottom ones the earth, generating a feeling of anchored particularity, which of course would change with the setting. The image seems familiar, but it is not — it may be an alien force, observing and biding its time while pretending to amuse.
Marcel Duchamp said that someday we will simply point at an object and say, "That is art." If that's true, then the metal park benches that are permanently installed in these mini-parks may be art. They are graceful, and reek of loneliness. And the brown trash cans are tilted at an amusing angle, indicating energy and expectancy — could they be art as well? And if it is still there, at 1545 Heights Boulevard I discovered a model T truck, about a century old, and beautiful in its craftsmanship and authenticity. Duchamp was right — that surely is art.
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