Saturday, April 18, 2009

Public art to identify Cleveland's past and neighborhoods

Last summer I went to New York on business and while touring Manhattan, I noticed that several districts had iconic art pieces, representing their function and/or their history. The large black bull of Wall Street is the best known example, but I also saw a oversized spool of thread and needle sculpture in the garment district and several other neighborhoods had site-specific art. I say this because recently I was looking at photographs of Playhouse Square and despite the prominence of the theater marquees, historic black-and-white shots of the whole block don't really dramatically capture the idea of what is going on there (though maybe modern color ones do better). The marquees are surprisingly hard to detect against the background of the large buildings. Consequently, I'm imagining some sort of public art (Janus masks?) hanging suspended over Euclid Avenue at East 14th, as a means of announcing the location of the theaters from many blocks either way up Euclid.

That Manhattan trip was to talk to a library group out on Long Island and I started off telling them I was there to rescue some native Clevelanders who'd been captured by New York and take them home. One was John D. Rockefeller, another was Superman, and the third was Hart Crane, who while probably not a native, nevertheless probably started writing "The Bridge" while looking at the Detroit-Superior Bridge, not the Brooklyn Bridge as it became later. Then last week, looking at the opening credits of the movie "Trading Places" I saw a montage of shots of Philadelphia neighborhoods and sculptures. A big one of Ben Franklin operating his printing press, the Rocky Balboa statue on the steps of the art museum, etc. All this tells me that we need to do more about our favorite sons and daughters than putting them in chairs in parks (Hanna and Johnson). I'd love to see a dynamic Superman statue somewhere* (I realize that this has been proposed before) and one of crafty JDR, probably down by the river where the oil business started, although several other places around town are associated with him. Margaret Bourke-White and Garrett Morgan are a couple other names that come to readily to mind. Perhaps outdoor sculptures of people is passé, artistically-speaking, but the city needs something besides some of the abstract sculptures I see around that could be explaining more about Cleveland's history and operations.

* (Perhaps a spot along Euclid Avenue on the CSU campus would be a better spot for Superman than Playhouse Square, as it would be a better fit with the student population and would symbolize success though personal effort.)

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