High Places

If you came across the work in progress in front of City Hall throughout the month of February your first thought was probably “those poor folks.”
Right in the midst of the rainy season, an undaunted team comprised of artist Patrick Dougherty and his assistants worked away at an environmental artwork stitched together atop the sycamore trees in the plaza.
When I passed through on my way to the painfully shy or absent sound installation in City Hall’s rotunda, my early impressions proved different than when I stopped by to take pictures a week or two later after completion.
The sculptures, surrounded as they still were by chain link fences and construction materials, seemed almost confectionary: great mounds whipped up by an enormous spatula into frothy peaks.
Perhaps it was the time of day. Dusk was rapidly approaching and the dark bundles and minarets rose black against the sheen of the street lights.
Now with the construction finished, and viewed on an uncharacteristically bright and warm Sunday afternoon, the woven willow branches seem more like habitable structures of some unheard of avian species, come to reclaim the carefully ordered classical arrangement of sycamores from our obsessive rearrangements of nature.
They cluster in the southwest corner of the row of sycamore trees. Some throw out cytoplasmic strands that arch overhead to connect with a neighboring trunk. One might be a mere tangle of fibers atop the sycamore while others are full blown huts that bowl outward or build to a conical tip.
In all the press releases I read leading up to its unveiling, the piece was anonymous. It was referred to simply as an installation by Patrick Dougherty.
Eventually, it was revealed that the official project description was The Upper Crust.

“Don’t be gawking upward,” Fred Savage said, amused. “Good way to get your pocket picked. Besides” – his grin was wide, either his teeth were extraordinarily perfect or these were dentures of the cheapest kind- “they’re not for lookin’ up at anyway by the likes of you, y’know, no, they’re for lookin’ out of by the type of folks inside, yunnastan.”

    Little, Big, John Crowley

With the price of rent in the city, and times being what they are, you could probably find a few takers.
The reactions I’ve heard either from people who have seen it or from whom I showed pictures to has been mixed. I’m going to come out in favor of it. Yes, even the provocative title. I view the Arts Commission’s recent efforts as overall pretty good, and it’s heartening that their progress is one of continual momentum.
Stop by, give it a chance and see what you think. If the weather is none too great, you can console yourself with the fact that the artist and his team labored under the same less than ideal conditions. The works may lie just out of reach, but they’re free and available for all to see. A nice little paradox for our times.

More on the piece at the Arts Commision’s site and over at Civic Center blog.


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