by Leslie Wylie
Whether you're on foot or whizzing past in a car, it takes effort to miss Krutch Park's newest additions. That's because they're big. Real big. (OK, there may be one or two marginally less elephantine ones that you could get away with putting in your garden, but they're the exception rather than the rule.)
And no matter what the pretentious art snobs tell you, size does matter. Concrete lawn ornamentsâ"even day-glo pink flamingoesâ"don't cause passers-by to slam on their brakes. Twenty-foot-tall abstract sculptures that appear to be engaged in some type of communion with outer space, e.g. Taylor Wallace's unusual masterpiece â“Self Reflection,â” do.
Bart Watkins, who chaired the first annual Dogwood Arts Festival Art in Public Places project, says that when they were unloading the sculptures into the park last month, the initial reaction he observed from downtowners was surprising. â“It was a Monday morning, people on their way to work, and we had the city streets [adjacent to the park] blocked off,â” he says. â“Being held up, you'd expect people to be blowing their horns, but they were just enthralled, looking at the pieces with smiles on their faces.â”
Considering the whimsical, contemporary nature of the majority of the sculptures, such a response isn't surprising. Even kids, from whom the average watercolor landscape portrait might elicit a yawn at best, seem at least interested, if not captivated, by the oversized sculptures.
Watkins recalls watching two young sisters standing in front of Richard Hallier's bronze sculpture â“Girl with Doves,â” in which a pixie-esque young woman with long hair and her face turned toward the sky appears to beâ"there is no other word to use hereâ"frolicking amid a flock of doves.
As their mother stood on the sidewalk nearby, snapping their picture with her camera, the sisters mimicked the joyful body language of the girl in the statue.
â“It's wonderful to see that kind of interaction between the people and the art,â” Watkins says. â“You walk through the park and see people carrying cameras and taking pictures of all the sculpturesâ"I don't think I've ever been downtown and not seen them interacting with them in some way. It's really neat.â”
Watkins, who sits on the Dogwood Arts Festival Board of Directors, was struck by the idea for a sculpture garden about a year and a half ago. Well-known sculptor Wayne Trapp had installed one of his large works in front of the Cedar Bluff art gallery Watkins owns with his family, Liz-Beth and Co., and it got him to thinking. â“It just kind of hit me: What if we had a whole bunch of these big, huge sculptures downtown?â” Watkins says.
It wasn't difficult to get the president of the Festival's Board of Directors, Eddie Mannis, and subsequently Mayor Bill Haslam's office on board. Sculptor Trapp agreed to sign on as curator, and the project was born.
â“[Trapp] was just instrumental,â” Watkins says. â“He leapfrogged our development by at least five years as far as credibility within the art world is concerned.â”
Trapp worked a handful of his own pieces into the project, including the eye-catching stainless-steel tripod on the lawn facing Gay Street, which he was commissioned to create specifically for the Dogwood Arts exhibit. Pieces by other artists include two organically shaped steel sculptures, one of which is wind-powered, by Mike Roideg; an elegant pink marble composition by local artist Moema Furtado; and a boxy relic of the 1982 World's Fair, compliments of the Philippine government.
Of the last, Watkins explains, â“Eddie Mannis was walking in the World's Fair Park and saw this red object, a kind of abstract-looking sculpture from the World's Fair. He contacted the city, and they said that if we wanted to pick it up and clean it up we were more than welcome to use it for the exhibit.â”
The city, Watkins says, was great to work with. Mayor Haslam was on hand for the sculptures' unveiling, and Watkins' original presentation of a five-year plan for the Art in Public Places project seemed to go over wellâ"though Watkins' aspirations for the project are even more ambitious than that; he's already working on a 10-year plan. â“By the year 2010, we hope to see 50 sculptures, at a minimum,â” he says. Watkins envisions clusters of eight, 10, maybe 12 sculptures in several different areas of the city, such as Gay Street, the waterfront and Market Square, on exhibit on a seasonal basis.
â“We hope to see it as an ongoing and growing part of the festival, and something that becomes an attraction for downtown Knoxville,â” Watkins says, adding that he hopes there'll be even more involvement from local artists in the future. â“If there are artists out there who'd like to contact the festival about getting their works included in next year's project, we'd love to hear from them. It's about interacting with the community.â”
What: Art in Public Places Where: Krutch Park When: Thru July 31 How Much: Free
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