20 March 2016

Cultural District Art Corner

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The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is responsible for turning this streetcorner (the former location of Dr Johnson’s Marital Aids and Love Potions) into a parklet with public art displays that rotate every so many years.

1995: The initial installation was called Season in Spiral by sculptor Takasama Kuniyasu. It consisted of a spiral of 2000 stacked logs with beige bricks and two trees. We located this Post Gazette article about it, but the photo included is too dark to be viewed.

1997: A garden maze made out of 30 inch high yew bushes replaced Season in Spiral. Designed by artists James O. Loney and David A. Ludwig, Labrynth was an interactive piece, inviting pedestrians to find their way from two separate entrances into the center of the display. We were unable to locate any old photos.

1999: I remember walking past a large metal cage–like structure full of great pieces of architectural treasures from local demolitions on this corner. Cornices, gargoyles, grotesques and other stone treasures were piled into a cone shape. I vividly remember staring at the beautiful remnants of Pittsburgh’s past and mourning the destruction. I was thankful that someone had thought to save those artistic treasures. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that this was not just some wonderful contractor or public organization saving a piece of our history. This was actually a public art piece (the third in this location) titled Palazzo Nudo by sculptor Alexandr Brodsky.

Palazzo Nudo consisted of a 50 foot high pile of the best parts from an assortment of local buildings that had been demolished. Some of this architectural heritage was donated to the Cultural Trust by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. We found some photos on line here and here.

Rumor has it that those artifacts were handed over to the Heinz History Center. (We haven’t confirmed that yet.) As we ride around town though, We’ve spotted a few other architectural objects that have been rescued and incorporated into the landscape as individual pieces of artwork now. We love that about Pittsburgh. We turn gargoyles into fountains and make ornaments out of the old Civic Arena roof. We cherish pieces of our history and give them due respect. We were re–purposing things long before it was fashionable to do so.

A rescued gargoyle from the early 1900’s turned into a fountain in Station Square.

2006: The current piece to grace this Cultural District parklet was installed. Owned by the Sports and Exhibition Authority (SEA), this piece was commissioned for the Convention Center Hotel grounds. The SEA contracted with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to display the artwork here until June 2015 when they hope to relocated it to it’s permanent site.

Hard to tell if this closeup is from a live tree or one of the sculptures, isn’t it?

Magnolias for Pittsburgh was Tony Tasset’s first public sculpture. Painstakingly modeled from a real magnolia tree, he created these two trees to be perpetually in bloom. Each branch and petal is unique and hand painted. They are installed here along with real magnolia trees, and when the live trees are in bloom it’;s difficult to tell them apart. It’s in the middle of winter that the magic of the artwork is so pronounced. A welcome and cheerful sight when the temperatures have been down for too long and winter is wearing on the best of us. It reminds us that the snow really is going to melt and spring will come.

In 2007 this piece was included in the Americans for the Arts Public Art Network Year in Review, where they recognize outstanding public art projects that represent the most compelling work for the year from across the country.

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