Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Art at the Library a Highlight of New Space

It was so great finally to be able to visit the Library again last week.

They improved the side hallway into a gallery

The day was cloudy, and I did not find that the interior light levels quite met the glow promised in the pre-construction architectural renderings. It was still a little dim and gloomy in places. I hope they can adjust the lighting to make it brighter on winter, rainy days. (My pictures shift amber and are much dimmer than the light levels as I experienced them with my eyes in person, however. The art was generally well lit.)

I did not find the space as legible as I hoped, also. I wasn't looking for things, and hoped they would be obvious. I had no idea where the reference section was. Where's the Hugh Morrow collection now? Divisions in the Library's collection were not obvious. I know I will learn where they are, but I had hoped they would be legible and obvious, that the space itself would be easy to read without signage and I would not have to work to understand where things were. But it is a kind of generic white box now. More flexible, probably, but maybe we will need a map or directions at first.

"Call Number Cascade"
Does it really invoke Dewey decimals?
(detail, Councilor Hoy)

The highlight, and wholly unexpected, was the art. The new commission, Call Number Cascade, to see in person was still disappointing. It is busy and too jumbled to read. It totally requires a title and artist statement to decode and parse. Public art in contexts like that should be legible without an artist statement. The statement might add nuance and layer, but it should not be necessary to have a basic sense for the art. Even just formally it's not exciting. The colors are desaturated, and don't really function well as an abstract splash of color. The black looks like ink spots from a leaky fountain pen. I look at that big wall and I want more wonder and delight on on it.

Do you love it?

It will be interesting to read and hear what others have to say about it, whether they find more delight in it and better ways to engage it.

Other art was better lit than it had been in the old space and deployed in thematic groupings. It was a real treat. There were no tags, so aside from a few pieces I recognized, it was easy to approach it with a fresh, open mind. And the way there were obvious rhymes in each cluster meant the art was possible to "read" without a decoder ring. Bold color did a lot of the lifting.

Ruddy earth tones and landscapes

In looking around, I followed the right-hand rule automatically, and so the hallway gallery (at top) was the first thing I noticed. Then, in the northeast corner were two landscapes, one mostly realist, the other a little abstract, linked by the rhyming red-brown earth tones and central shadow.

One of them I could find in the City's list, "Red Rock" (1972), the other might be a new acquisition.

Carl Morris (r) and more modern piece (l) that rhymes

Next, on a north wall, the Carl Morris, "Dwelling" (1965) was hung with what seemed to be another newer piece, which had a similar approach to color and pattern. (See this later one with a stained glass theme that was in the Conference Center for a while.)

Then it clicked that I should be looking for rhymes in each group, that they were not accidental.

There were several other clusters with obvious themes, some groups that might have been assembled from ones that did not fall into obvious themes, perhaps having themes I did not grasp, and a couple of pieces that were separated and seemed they should be displayed together for a more intimate conversation.

But in nearly every way it seemed an improvement.

Making the Library space a better place to feature the art was a small delight and unexpected bonus in the seismic work and remodel.

Art Commission

The Art Commission meets twice this week, and they are focused on the Civic Center.

Today, Wednesday the 13th, they met earlier and formally accepted Call Number Cascade into the public art collection. They are also starting to think about public art for the new Public Works Operations Building underway.

The 50th anniversary of the Civic Center is coming up next August in 2022, and they will meet separately tomorrow, Thursday the 14th, to consider places for new art in observance of that anniversary.

For both the new Public Works building and the 50th anniversary, I hope they think more about ways that non-specialists encounter and read public art. There's a reason "critter art" is so popular! Legibility, wonder, and delight are not always valued in high art at museums or galleries, but should be valued more in the commissioning and installation of public art.

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