Public Art Gets Closer to Nature

Public Art Gets Closer to Nature

In her ongoing arts/culture column, NAC Deputy Editor Julia Ramey zeroes in on three public art installations that rely on the environment to work their magic.

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Outdoor public art has always had to be waterproof, but beyond that, its relationship with nature has been pretty haphazard. But as I was cruising the web looking for cool summer art offerings, I noticed a trend: There seems to be a shift happening lately, indicating that artists who prepare public outdoor art want their works to be evocative of the nature surrounding them, or even involve the participation of the elements. Here’s a roundup of three ongoing or upcoming events, each of which has a particularly harmonious relationship with the environment and requires the participation of nature in some form.


Patrick Dougherty’s The Upper Crust. Photo by Perretti & Park Pictures.

Ongoing in San Francisco is artist Patrick Dougherty’s The Upper Crust, a series of conical forms for which the artist collected 18,000 pounds of freshly cut willow saplings, which he then wove into the branches of a bunch of sycamore trees on a plaza across from San Francisco’s City Hall. On view through November, the sculpture will change with the seasons as the trees bloom and change color. All of the materials used are recycled, and the artist took especial care to make sure that not only are the sycamore trees unharmed, but they will undergo all their natural changes. The San Francisco Arts Commission calls it an “exuberant collision of art and nature” — Has anyone seen it? Care to elaborate?

In Houston at the end of this month, locals and visitors can brave the sure-to-be sweltering heat and head to Discovery Green, a new-ish public park smack in the middle of downtown, to see Light As Air, a collection of inflatable art from artists around the country. All of the art is affected by the air, but Susan Robb’s “Warmth, Giant Black Toobs” (click here for images) actually relies on it: As the air heats inside the toobs, which are made out of plastic garbage bags, the toobs rise and move around. Robb has said that the exhibit is meant to draw attention to the prominent presence of plastic waste in our environment. The overall concept and effect is pretty whimsical, but that’s appropriate for downtown Houston, which, as evidenced by the perpetual success of the Art Car Parade, has become a mecca for quirk. Alas, this exhibition only lasts for a few days, May 28-31.


One of George Rickey’s kinetic sculptures on display in Germany.

Finally, Indianapolis is currently hosting a bunch of works by a South Bend-born artist, George Rickey, who spent his entire career constructing massive, stainless-steel sculptures carefully designed to move in the wind. Ten of the late artist’s kinetic sculptures are on display as part of George Rickey: An Evolution”, ranging from the massive steel circles of “Annular Eclipse V” to the hypnotic “Space Churn with Octagon.” The works are clustered within 18 square blocks in downtown Indianapolis, between Ohio and Maryland streets and Alabama Street and Senate Avenue. Rickey’s work can be seen around the world, but to see so many so close together seems like a nice treat, especially since they’ll encourage those in downtown Indy to get out of their cars and take a stroll.

Anyone else have word of a nature-themed/infused work of public art?

Tags: san franciscohoustonindianapolis

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