A recent vacation to Maine included an encounter with a mythic lumberjack in the city of Bangor.
One can’t help but guess that Bangor’s civic leaders felt that an imposing rendering of Mr. Bunyan would bring them karmic notoriety among tourists. It works – the snapshot is likely all I’ll ever recall about Bangor.
Some small towns have taken to pinning every shred of civic hope on the ability to boast the biggest strawberry, lava lamp, or bull. The sculpture-as-tourist-trap approach to salvaging the economies and identities of rural America is documented with pathos and hilarity in the 2010 documentary World’s Largest, shown last July at the Indianapolis International Film Festival.
Our own city is making more serious strides in the public art realm, including the IMA’s 100 Acres, the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library’s thinmanlittlebird, and Cardinal, designed by Jeff Laramore for the new JW Marriott Hotel plaza downtown as part of the face-lift spurred by the 2012 Super Bowl. How refreshing that the sculpture was installed, this past March, months before the building itself is finished. (I’m eager to hear what my fellow citizens think of this piece – please comment).
And one year from now, artist Fred Wilson will unveil an intriguing installation on the lawn of Indy’s City-County building as a response to an existing work of public art: an African-American male freed slave figure that’s part of the Indiana Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Monument, circa 1901. The conversation that’s sure to be prompted by works like Wilson’s E Pluribus Unum is a manifestation of the social capital leveraged by art in the public square.
And if an over-sized strawberry sculpture can revive a dying rural town, that’s grand too.