Monday, November 07, 2005

The Changing Madison Landscape

Yesterday was a brisk but sunny Sunday afternoon in Madison and there was very little traffic on Regent Street. It was time to snatch an opportunity to snap some photos of "Nail's Tales," the new 48-foot-tall sculpture by Donald Lipski, recently installed at the intersection of Regent Street and Breese Terrace near Camp Randall Stadium and the Wisconsin Field House.

The $200,000 sculpture was funded by Wisconsin's Percent for Art Program, which "was established in 1980 for the purpose of placing artwork in the public setting, both to beautify our public buildings and urban environments and to draw attention to the wealth of artistic expertise within our region." And futhermore, "Under the legislation for the program, two-tenths of one percent of the total construction costs of new state building or renovation projects is designated for the commission or purchase of artwork. Only state buildings with a high degree of public access are eligible for Percent for Art funding."

Love it or loath it, the sculpture is clearly attracting a great deal of attention, but fortunately not from pigeons (or any other kind of birds), even though a student who lives nearby was quoted in Doug Moe's column in The Capital Times saying, "Coming down the street it looked like a huge ear of corn."

While it looks a bit different from the much taller Nelson's Column in London's Trafalgar Square, "Nail's Tales" shares that famous monument's extreme vertical orientation and insistent upward thrust. What it lacks is a cozy place to perch.

Several years ago, London Mayor Ken Livingston took action to eliminate the pesky (or popular, depending one your viewpoint) pigeons from Trafalgar Square, blaming corrosive pigeon poop for more than £140,000 of damage to Nelson's Column and the square. I've seen Trafalgar Square before and after the pigeon feeding ban, and believe me, after is better. So that's why, when confronted with a local phallic symbol on Sunday afternooon, I looked for the birds. There were more than a few in the neighborhood, but they preferred the roof of the Wisconsin Field House. Clearly they weren't about to tackle the task of landing on some very hard footballs.

Before you make up your mind about Lipski's sculpture, take a look at the photos of some of his other works, posted on the Kansas City Public Library website, and read the names he's given them. This man has a sense of humor. Lipski told Moe this sculpture was named after his old roommate, Eric "Nails" Nathan. Now there's a man whose stories I'd love to hear. Were those tales about footballs? Were they tall tales? Does size matter?

And if you still don't think this is your kind of public art, consider this quote from Lipski included in a UW-Madison press release: "People hated the Eiffel Tower when it went up. They thought it was brutal and completely out of scale with the landscape. Now, imagine Paris without it."


D Strand said...

Who put that thing up? I think the fire hydrant next to it is better art! At least it has some color (red)! They tear down Central and erect that? What are they thinking?? I love football, but that thing is hideous!! I doubt that Coaches Pollack, Harris, Olson, and Olson would like it. Footballs should be stacked neatly, not in some haphazard way like that! You can't even tell they are footballs at a normal distance!! If I were waiting for a bus on that corner, I wouldn't want to stand next to that thing!!!

D Strand said...

Oh, I forgot Mr. Rooney. I don't think he would like it either!!