Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Spring Time in Minnesota
It’s spring in Minnesota and that’s heavenly!
by Charlie Leck
A few days ago I was walking through the beautiful sculpture gardens in Minneapolis. It’s a spectacular place on a warm, sunny day – an urban paradise. As one walks through the park, one almost feels isolated from the bustling city just outside the tree line and the hedges. I say almost because one can still hear the whining buzz of tires on pavement as cars speed by on Dunwoody Boulevard and Hennepin Avenue and on the elevated freeway that curves around two sides of the park.
What a gorgeous place! I love it here. And, I am amazed that the park is so undisturbed when it’s so wide open to anyone who wants to walk in from the city’s streets. There’s no ugly security fence surrounding the boundaries of the park. Walk on in from almost any direction. Put your face right up to anyone of the sculptures and see the tiniest crevice or imperfection. Step back a few paces and take in the whole of it and shake your head in wonder at the creativity of the artist who gave birth to this piece and that.
Isn’t the humorous bronze sculpture by Barry Flanegan just delightful? A rabbit (hare) bounds over the top of a classically cast bronze bell. The lines are beautiful and the rabbit looks spry and graceful in relation to the static and very wise bell. One wonders about the association and relationship of the two forms, but the scent of spring in the air makes me suspect there is something here that has to do with fertility and creation. I’m sure there are all kinds of meanings I’m missing, but the work drew a smile across my face and elicited a giggle from me. That’s good enough!
My favorite piece is a bronze, marble and limestone sculpture by Judith Shea. She calls it ‘Without Words’ and it makes me wonder what it means and how she ever got the idea. I haven’t the faintest idea, but I love the quiet loneliness of the creation.
How exciting that such magnificent art can be wide open to the flow and to the insanity of the city. There is no graffiti here and no signs of vandalism. Perhaps the setting is just too cool and too special for anyone to deface it in any way. I hope that’s the reason. I remember one of Rodin’s works sitting on a quiet, lonely street corner in Paris. No signs of damage! No acts of disrespect. It was a nearly sacred place and the statue remained beautiful, free and solemn. I spent many sunny afternoons sitting near it, munching on a sandwich and sipping on an Orangina.
The beautiful bridge by Siah Armajani allows visitors to cross the busy and complex fusion of Lyndale and Hennepin Avenues and to go from Loring Park to this spectacular garden. Wheelock Whitney, a neighbor and friend, had the bridge built as a memorial to his late wife, Irene Hixon Whitney. What a wonderful lady she was. I wrote an essay about her back in the 80s and I’ll have to pull it out and post it here someday soon. The bridge is one of my favorite structures in the entire city. It is ultimately modern while it points, at the same time, back to the rich history of the city. It reminds us of the massive suspension bridges that crossed the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis. Yet, the Armajani structure is light and delicate and lithe of spirit. The artist is best known for combining art with utilitarian public works. This may be his finest example. The colors create a strong contrast that speak of the busy city on one side and the reclusive, private setting on the other. I think of Irene every single time I look at this bridge.
I close out this little visit to the gardens with a walk through the small conservatory. I know I will find Frank Gehry’s massive work here and I am anxious to see it again. A few obviously homeless fellows are enjoying the quiet of the conservatory, sitting and resting and looking at the palm trees. One of them wears a button that pleads that we “keep libraries open.” Yes, for reasons that go beyond his, that’s a very good idea. They nod and politely offer a greeting. I nod back to them and make the turn into the big area where the fish is springing toward the sky, curving its massive body gracefully. It’s a combination of steel, wood, rubber, glass and Plexiglas. Its green color is magical. It is surrounded by palm trees and calamondin orange trees. I look for some way to take a meaningful photograph. It’s a complex problem and the art work is masterfully complex also. The crystalline magic of the conservatory seems to supply a perfect backdrop for this creation. Light comes from everywhere and reflects off the glass fish. I suppose it to be a giant carp out of the Mississippi, but what do I know about fish? The artist is also responsible for the controversial museum on the University of Minnesota campus – the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum. I circle the big fish, shaking my head in wonder.
My legs are beginning to crave a place to sit down and to rest. My car is less than a hundred yards away and it is time to drive on to a nice little coffee spot. I’ll sip on an expensive latte and run little pictures in my mind of the delightful things I’ve seen in the garden.
What a lovely spot in the spring! My old friend, Millard Ahlstrom, once told me that this is precisely what heaven is like – if that’s what you want heaven to be. I hope so. I loved Millard and I miss him. Perhaps we’ll sit together again someday in a big sculpture garden in the sky. I hope so. I’ll bet Millard is hanging around with Hubert right now, talking about Minnesota and their huge love for this place. I’ll tell you about Millard someday.