Category: Public art

Jeff Koons train: Destination LACMA or the High Line?

March 27, 2012 |  6:03 pm

While LACMA’s plans to build a massive Jeff Koons sculpture of a train outside the museum seem to be running out of steam, the Friends of the High Line in New York have thrown another possible wrench into the works: They announced their desire to build the same unrealized sculpture by Koons in their popular city park, which overlooks Chelsea and neighboring areas in Manhattan where an elevated railway once ran.

“I think the train connection is really powerful for us,” said Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line, which is known for integrating art, though usually temporary, into the elevated park.

As a permanent attraction, the Koons sculpture “could point to the city’s industrial history and how freight trains used to run here,” he said, adding that one proposed site is the rail yards between 30th and 34th streets, near the West Side Highway.

The sculpture, which the Los Angeles County Museum of Art unveiled to the public with dramatic renderings five years ago, consists of a realistic-looking 70-foot replica of a 1943 Baldwin 2900 steam locomotive hanging from a real 160-foot crane. The train is meant to look and sound authentic, with wheels chugging and steam releasing on occasion. The project was estimated to cost at least $25 million, though several people close to the project say that actual costs could run much higher.

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Opera designer Robert Israel's sculptures will cheer sick kids

March 24, 2012 |  8:03 am


TRobert Israel childrens hospital flying cow and moon phases sculptures John Dean photo

This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.

Through more than 40 years as a set and costume designer, UCLA professor Robert Israel has often been called upon to help instill sorrow, tension and dread in opera-goers and theater and dance audiences.

But perhaps his biggest and most palpably enduring project, to be unveiled next month in Baltimore, aims for just the opposite effect. Returning to sculpture for the first time since 1968, Israel has created 11 giant, colorful pieces designed to cheer sick or injured children and their families.

The sculptures will debut April 12 at the dedication of the new $1.1-billion Johns Hopkins Hospital, where 500 artworks have been commissioned from more than 70 artists. Israel's are in the 205-bed pediatric wing, the Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Center.

His past credits include Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” Verdi’s “Macbeth” and operas by Philip Glass. His previous creation in Baltimore was the set for a 2005 production of “King Lear” at Baltimore Center Stage.

Now comes his cow who jumped over the moon -– and other fanciful, brightly colored works. Hanging in the atrium of the children’s wing is Israel’s 22-foot-tall, muliticolored ostrich made of fiberlglass, its big blue egg deposited on a counter below. A school of yellow puffer fish (pictured) swims in air above a central staircase, and a 20-foot-high aluminum baby rhino grazes outside the building’s glass facade. The flying cow with the purple, Lego-like body, yellow head and nine-foot wing span (pictured) soars above an information desk, intent on vaulting a ring of 28 orange and brown moons.

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Kevin Costner in legal dispute with artist over sculptures

March 20, 2012 | 11:45 am

Actor Kevin Costner stands with bronze sculptures of bison and American Indians at his Tatanka attraction near Deadwood, S.D.
Kevin Costner's latest epic journey isn't taking place on a movie screen near you, but in a courtroom. The actor-director is currently embroiled in a legal dispute with an artist over a series of sculptures, and the case has reached the South Dakota Supreme Court.

Costner is battling Peggy Detmers, an artist who was commissioned by the Hollywood star to create 17 bronze sculptures depicting buffalo and Native Americans. The sculptures were originally intended to be displayed at Costner's planned South Dakota resort called the Dunbar, named after his character in the Oscar-winning 1990 movie "Dances With Wolves."

Plans for the resort eventually fell through and the completed sculptures ended up on display at another Costner destination spot, Tatanka: Story of the Bison, an educational center in South Dakota about the history of bison in America. ("Tatanka" is the Lakota word for "bull buffalo.")

According to reports, Detmers claims that the sculptures were not placed in a mutually agreed upon location and that they therefore should be sold, with the artist entitled to 50% of the proceeds.

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LACMA's Michael Govan talks about his new rock star

March 9, 2012 |  9:00 am

Michael Govan in Riverside with the boulder intended for "Levitated Mass."
As long as artist Michael Heizer is not granting interviews about his 340-ton boulder, which has achieved celebrity status en route to becoming a museum piece, LACMA director Michael Govan has served as its de facto spokesman or agent.

Last year Govan first introduced the public to the rock at its quarry in Riverside (above), where he marvelled over the jagged lines and dramatic form of what seemed at first glance a perfectly generic boulder. This week he has fielded countless requests from radio and TV programs about the boulder's high-profile journey.

We caught up with him Thursday in the middle of the madness.

Did you ever expect the rock to get this degree of attention and adulation?
We thought it would be interesting to mark the city with this megalith and that it could have a power that extends beyond the [LACMA] campus. But, no. I don’t think we could imagine this--that there would be 20,000 people in Bixby Knolls. We always think of artists as challenging expectations, so I wasn’t expecting this kind of outpouring of expression and love.

PHOTOS: Giant rock rolling toward LACMA

What do you think it is about the rock that’s captured everyone’s attention?
Somebody said, I think a news cameraman, that there’s something very primal in human beings about moving rocks. I think that’s as plausible a reason as any. Why is it when you look across the globe from India and Asia to Mexico that so many ancient cultures did the same thing?

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New Orleans chooses sculpture for evacuation spots

March 9, 2012 |  6:30 am


Public art usually makes the news for the controversy it engenders. But sometimes, an outdoor artwork performs a civic function that everyone can agree upon.

This week, New Orleans chose a sculpture that will be reproduced around the city as markers for "evacuspots" -- designated points where people can gather to be transported out of town in the case of a mandatory evacuation. This obviously strikes a chord in a city that was devastated nearly seven years ago when Hurricane Katrina caused widespread flooding, leaving many residents stranded and without aid.

The sculpture, created by artist Douglas Kornfeld of Massachusetts, features the outline of a human form with a single arm raised. The Arts Council of New Orleans said that the artist will be paid $200,000 to create 17 sculptures to mark neighborhood pickup points.

The project is a partnership between the city's Percent for Art Program and the volunteer group The pickup points are designated by New Orlean's City Assisted Evacuation Plan, which is intended to help those who lack the ability to self-evacuate.

Kornfield's winning design was chosen from a field of five semi-finalists, according to the Arts Council. The artist specializes in public artwork and has created pieces for public venues around the country.


Rush Limbaugh sculpture is planned for Missouri statehouse

Sarah Palin's hometown in debate over public sculpture

-- David Ng

Photo: A rendering of the sculpture by artist Douglas Kornfeld. Credit: Douglas Kornfeld /

LACMA's boulder is drawing crowds in downtown Bixby Knolls

March 7, 2012 |  3:59 pm

LACMA rock in Bixby Knolls

The massive transporter hauling the 340-ton boulder wrapped in plastic that eventually will be the centerpiece of Michael Heizer's outdoor sculpture "Levitated Mass" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is parked until Wednesday night in a commercial strip of Bixby Knolls, a Long Beach neighborhood just up Atlantic Avenue from the 405 Freeway.

The massive transporter takes up the center two lanes of the four-lane street. The boulder hits the road at 10 p.m., headed for Vermont Avenue north of Carson Street. 

Meanwhile a block party, extended until 7 p.m., is under way.

PHOTOS: Giant rock rolling toward LACMA

At lunchtime there was a DJ, a live band, food trucks, a taco stand, a booth selling T-shirts ("Bixby Knolls Got Rocked"), street artists spray-painting on cardboard sheets, several TV cameras, many still cameras, lots of cellphone cameras, a makeshift table display labeled "Pop Art" (stacked cans of Rockstar Energy Drink), some buskers, dogs on leashes (including mine), pontificating actors from a local theater, plenty of security guards, plenty of slowly moving traffic (although no actual traffic jams) and a steady stream of hundreds -- no, probably a few thousand -- looky-loos filing along the crowded sidewalks.

The boulder, quietly suspended within the transporter's industrial cradle amid the hubbub, seemed positively petite.

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Rush Limbaugh sculpture is planned for Missouri statehouse

March 6, 2012 | 11:56 am

Rush Limbaugh

When Thomas Hart Benton's murals depicting Missouri state history for the Capitol building in Jefferson City were unveiled in 1937, deep in the dark days of the Great Depression, a clamor arose over the artist's inclusion of corrupt Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast. Within a few years, Pendergast would be locked away in Leavenworth -- something about failure to pay taxes on bribes received --  but Benton was adamant in defending his mural's depiction.

Facts were facts, truth was beauty. Everything in the mural had happened in Missouri history, Benton insisted, and if he had been hired to paint a mural for Illinois he would have included Al Capone.

Pretty much the same defense is now coming from Missouri Republican Steve Tilley, speaker of the House, who recently chose conservative radio shock-jock Rush Limbaugh to be immortalized in a bronze sculpture inside the state Capitol. Limbaugh is currently bleeding advertisers in the wake of a three-day diatribe demeaning a law student as a "slut" and a "prostitute" for her position on women's healthcare. The broadcaster lives in Palm Beach, Fla., but was born in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

“It’s not the 'Hall of Universally Loved Missourians,’” Tilley told the Kansas City Star in defense of his decision, now the subject of a petition drive to halt the move. “It’s the Hall of Famous Missourians.”

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Gun imagery to remain in controversial 'vaquero' statue in Texas

February 23, 2012 |  8:30 am


Don't mess with Texas? How about, don't mess with Texan artists? A public sculpture planned for the city of Fort Worth will proceed as planned despite some controversy about the gun imagery contained in the design.

The Fort-Worth Star Telegram reported Tuesday the City Council gave its unanimous support for the artists' design for the sculpture titled "Vaquero de Fort Worth." Work on the sculpture stopped last year when some people objected to including the image of a gun in the sculpture.

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Mark Grotjahn's snowmen hit the slopes in Aspen

February 22, 2012 |  6:15 am

Mark Grotjahn, Untitled (Green Over Yellow Mask)
Hard-core snowboarders and skiers in Aspen, Colo., might get surly when it rains, but Mark Grotjahn's newest sculptures, which are sharing their slopes, seem content in any weather. They are boxy, cheery, colorfully painted bronze heads with cut-out eyes that look like they were based on cardboard sculptures made by a kid. In fact, they were based on cardboard sculptures made by an acclaimed L.A. artist.

Grotjahn first showed his primitive cardboard sculptures in a group show, "Painting in Tongues," at L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art in 2006. Now his painted bronze versions have made their debut in Colorado: Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk each feature one sculpture, with the fifth located nearby at the Aspen Art Museum, where a survey of Grotjahn's work opened Monday.

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Sarah Palin's hometown in debate over public sculpture

February 20, 2012 |  8:25 am

  A public sculpture in Sarah Palin's hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, is causing a ruckus for what some claim to see as a depiction of the female genitalia
Sarah Palin's hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, is back in the news -- but not for anything the former vice presidential candidate has said or done. A public sculpture at the town's high school is causing a ruckus for what some claim to see as a depiction of the female genitalia.

The artwork in question is an outdoor sculpture created in conjunction with the state's Percent For Art program, a public initiative to promote arts and culture. As reported in the local newspaper, the Frontiersman, some people believe that the work resembles a large vagina, while others dispute the resemblance.

The sculpture was unveiled on Jan. 29 at Wasilla High School, but officials covered the work with a tarp just a few days later. The school's principal told the Frontiersman that the decision to cover the sculpture wasn't an act of censorship but rather a response to concern that the piece might be damaged.

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