Sunday, May 05, 2013

A Human Comedy

A Human Comedy

This was almost a very embarrassing blog post. Recently I've been doing a lot of posts about obscure public art & monuments around downtown Portland. It's a convenient topic in that I can just consult the map and then wander out of my cubicle on lunch and go find a few more. I'm not sure it always makes for really exciting blog fare, but then I've never been entirely convinced that anyone besides me actually reads this humble blog. In any case, I had it in mind to do a post about A Human Comedy, one of a few public artworks that went in along with the Pioneer Place mall. I often walk the block of SW Yamhill between 3rd & 4th and figured I was pretty familiar with this one, so one rainy day I wandered by and snapped some quick phone photos of the cryptic inscriptions spaced along the wall. I had a post in the drafts folder waiting to go and everything. Then I started in on the research part of writing the post. This is almost without exception the hardest part of the blogging racket: Collecting interesting (and hopefully accurate) facts about an obscure subject, trying to beat them into a semi-coherent and semi-readable whole, and secretly wondering if I'm just being tiresome and pedantic once again. So I started with the usual suspects. The Travel Portland art map says: Smart Park, SW Yamhill btw 3rd & 4th • façade Lee Hunt The Human Comedy 1990 terra cotta

And the Smithsonian art inventory describes it as "Ten medallions with faces in various expressions, in relief on the facade of a building".

A Human Comedy

Terra cotta? Faces? This didn't sound much like the Human Comedy I was familiar with. Then I noticed the CultureNOW page for it included a few photos. Which showed a bunch of terra cotta faces, and didn't picture any of the inscriptions I'd taken photos of. I went back to look, and it dawned on me: The faces are roughly on the second floor of the building, and all this time I'd neglected to look up. So I just saw the inscriptions and figured they were the whole piece, when they were actually just the labels for the medallions above them. D'oh. If I hadn't notice that, and published the post, one of two things would have happened. Someone more pedantic than I would angrily point out my mistake, and they'd be right, and it would be very embarrassing. Or nobody would notice, which would be another data point on just how obscure and little-read this humble blog actually is. As much as I make self-deprecating remarks about that now and then, I'm fairly certain I don't want any more actual data points about it.

Later came across an Art On File page for the piece, with a better photo and a short description:

The artist created ten glazed terra-cotta reliefs which sympathetically portray individuals, separate in outlook, but unified in their sense of the structure of their community. The reliefs are located on a public parking garage.

The RACC page about it says:

Lee Hunt’s “Human Comedy” shows human faces embodying various states of emotion. They include the Laughing Woman, the Perplexed Man, the Competition of the East and West Winds, the Idealized Woman, the Wry Woman, Marat Alive, The Idealized Man, Children Watching from the Window, the Skeptical Woman, and the Architectus Mundi.

A Human Comedy

In any case, I realized I needed face photos and didn't have any, and I was too busy to take any just then due to deadlines and so forth. This was around the time I was trying to get to an empty blog drafts folder, so I went ahead and deleted the old draft. Eventually I went back and took more photos, and here we are. There are a couple of details I should point out here. First, several of the faces were covered when I took these, thanks to construction for a shiny new Microsoft Store. I could have waited for that to finish, but I ended up with a couple of photos of a face suspiciously eyeing the Microsoft Store, which is too funny not to use. Secondly, between two of the faces stands the Atlas figure of the local Tiffany & Co. jewelry store. Which is an opportunity for platitudes about the awkward collision of Art and Commerce, which is a second angle I sort of have to run with. One or the other of those ideas might have gotten top billing in this post if I didn't also have a self-deprecating story to share.

A Human Comedy

In case you were wondering, I did do a bit of actual research on this one. I didn't come up with a lot of stuff to pass along, but I note that the artist also created the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden in Grant Park, A statue at the new high school football stadium in Camas, Washington, and a sculpture in the lobby of the Oregon State Archives building in Salem, with an inscription from Samuel Beckett's The Unnamable. The Cleary sculptures get by far the most mentions on the interwebs, mostly in connection with fandom around the books. I have to admit I've never read the books, despite being constantly encouraged to in grade school. I did come across an interesting blog post about public art that touches on the Cleary statues briefly; the author mentions a family from Kansas driving all the way to Portland just to be photographed with the statues, as one (rather extreme) example of the general public engaging with public artworks.

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1 comment :

Max said...

I read (and enjoy) your blog; rusting chunks and all. :-)