Sunday, February 19, 2023

Icarus at Kittyhawk

Next up we've got a fresh entry in a couple of long-running projects here. Some years ago this humble blog was largely about public art, in Portland or wherever else I happened to bump into it. When a new MAX line opened, there would always be a whole new batch of art of -- let's be honest here -- uneven, mostly fair-to-middling quality to write about, with the posts tagged blueline, greenline, yellowline, and so forth to make it easy to check them all out in one go and compare and contrast and so forth. That was a fairly well-defined, limited-scope project, but I still occasionally run across stuff I'd missed earlier, or things I couldn't post about because I didn't know the title or the artist.

Another sort of subproject was tracking down additional art by people whose other work I liked, or at least thought was distinctive in some way, and the resulting posts are tagged so if you just want to binge on Manuel Izquierdo art (for example), it's easy to do that. One of the resulting tags is for the late Lee Kelly, the prolific local artist behind Leland One (aka "Rusting Chunks No. 5") and countless other welded steel whatzits that have cropped up across the Northwest since the mid-1960s or so. I've never been a big fan of his stuff, though I'll admit some of his older work truly radiates groovy 1970s-ness, for good or ill. It's more that his stuff is fairly unavoidable if you try to do a public art project in this corner of the world.

That long-winded intro brings us to Icarus at Kittyhawk, at the Beaverton Central MAX station. TriMet's revised Westside Blue Line public art guide describes it thusly:

Icarus at Kittyhawk, 2005, by Lee Kelly was inspired by the myth of Icarus with its timeless message about the danger of human arrogance.

The 10’ tall stainless steel sculpture with seat was purchased with funds left over from the Westside MAX project and held by METRO.

The title is kind of funny given the location: The Beaverton Central project was a late-90s attempt to transplant Pearl District-style urbanism to the 'burbs: Retail and restaurant space on the ground floor, topped with several floors of upscale condos. That, evidently, was the Beaverton version of flying too close to the sun. The initial project ran out of money during construction, and the main condo building sat empty and exposed to the elements for a number of years before finally being completed in the mid-2000s. The condos eventually sold, and they finished an office building or two to flesh out the complex a bit, and a variety of short-lived restaurants and retailers have sort of cycled through the area ever since. But except for a couple of buildings on the old Westgate theater site, the expected forest of ever-taller imitators spreading across downtown Beaverton never happened. Or at least it hasn't happened yet.

Icarus doesn't seem to have arrived with any great fanfare, as the only mention of it I found was in the June 2005 meeting notes from the "Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation", a now-defunct regional government body:

On April 27th, the pedestrian environment at the Round in Beaverton received an injection of culture with the installation of "Icarus at Kittyhawk," a sculpture in stainless steel by Oregon City artist Lee Kelly. TOD Program staff secured funding for the project and worked in partnership with TriMet, the City of Beaverton and regional arts commission on artist solicitation and selection.

As a former westside resident on and off since the mid-1970s, I'm more than happy to snark about Beaverton all day as a private citizen, but the snide remark about Beaverton getting "an injection of culture" in official meeting minutes is... a bit much.

Come to think of it, going by the timing Icarus would have arrived while I was still commuting into downtown from darkest Aloha, since I didn't move downtown and start this weird little blog until November of that year. I don't recall noticing it at the time, but then again I had no idea I would end up doing weird projects like this, so I wasn't keeping detailed notes at the time.

Anyway, Icarus was also a stop on an exhaustive "Walk • Bike • Drive" map of Kelly art across the greater metro area, along with two others just within Beaverton city limits, the others being Arch with Oaks along Sunset, and another at PCC Rock Creek that I've never seen. In fact the map includes a lamentable number of others that I wasn't aware of and have never visited. Somehow I feel like I have to add them to the ol' TODO list now, although for the life of me I'm not sure why.

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