Sunday, August 28, 2016

Alpha Helix

The next public art we're looking at is Alpha Helix, a red sorta-corkscrew in front of an old house at SE 40th & Hawthorne. It looks like yet another random abstract sculpture, but there's a bit more going on this time.

Alpha Helix is a tribute to Nobel-winning chemist Linus Pauling, who grew up in the house here, and an alpha helix is a fundamental protein structure that Pauling co-discovered in 1951. He received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1954, primarily for this discovery. I have never been accused of being a biochemist, but my understanding is that this was a key building block leading up to figuring out the structure of DNA in 1953. (Pauling narrowly missed out on that acrimonious discovery.) Pauling went on to win the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize for his nuclear disarmament work, and he spent his later years promoting eccentric ideas about Vitamin C as a universal cure-all.

In any case, the house is now home to Portland's Institute for Science, Engineering and Public Policy, which runs an annual Linus Pauling Memorial lecture series. The sculpture was created for them by Portland-based sculptor Julian Voss-Andreae.

Stonehenge Memorial, July 2013

So here's an old photoset I'd lost track of at the bottom of my drafts folder. For any non-local readers, this is the Columbia Gorge's somewhat low-fidelity Stonehenge replica, built in 1918 as Klickitat County's World War I memorial. It was widely believed at the time that the original Stonehenge was built for human sacrifices, and I gather the memorial was meant as a sort of bitter comment that humanity hasn't progressed in the last few thousand years. Though the fact that they had the archeology all wrong kind of muddles the intended message. In any case, it's quite a scenic location and not at all depressing in person, and I thought some of my photos turned out ok, so here they are.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

N. Polk & Crawford

Here are a few photos of Portland's new-ish city park at N. Polk & Crawford in St. Johns, just north of the railroad bridge. The city bough the land in June 2015, but the parks bureau says they aren't planning on developing it or even naming it any time soon. Which generally means they don't have any money to spare on a new park. Still, that's essentially what they've done with the Skidmore Bluffs for the past couple of decades, and that seems to have worked out pretty well so far.

Silver River

Next up is Silver River, an 87' rendition of the route of the Colorado River in cast silver, created by Maya Lin in 2009 for the Aria hotel/casino in Las Vegas. I was going to chalk this up as another only-in-Vegas thing, but it's actually part of a wider series of cast-silver rivers, including the Mississippi, Missouri, Hudson, and Housatonic.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

This All Happened More or Less

One of the newer public artworks in Portland (at the time of writing) is This All Happened More Or Less, a collection of tiny figures scattered along inner SE Division St. These were created in 2014 by artists Crystal Schenk and Shelby Davis for a city streetscape project that also added bioswales and other gentrifying goodies. The RACC press release described the project thusly:

Appropriately titled “This All Happened More or Less,” the bronze characters created by the artists were inspired by their observations of activity along Division. The scale of these bronze figures (much different than the scale usually seen in public art) can draw a viewer in close enough to imagine a story behind each of the figures that vary from active, such as a kid on a skateboard, to inactive, such as waiting for a bus or sitting quietly with a pet dog. The artists have said, “We are merely suggesting stories and we want people to draw their own conclusions, to fill in all of the details, and to follow their imaginations.”

The title is almost, not quite, the opening line of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. Which I admit I haven't read since high school, so the allusion sort of escapes me at the moment.

Vita Mensae, Living Mind, Life of Thought

Ok, next up on the ongoing public art tour is another stop at OHSU. This time we're looking at Vitae Mensae, Living Mind, Life of Thought, the giant spooky half-head in front of the university's Medical Research Building. This was created circa 1993 by sculptor Larry Kirkland, who also did Capitalism, the stacked-coins fountain outside the Lloyd Center mall. There's a longer post about Vita Mensae at an OHSU history blog; the author wonders whether the Latin name is quite correct, and whether it would have been more appropriate to depict the other half of the head. Which are concerns that I guess a doctor would have about it that I never would have thought of. The post includes a photo of a sign explaining the sculpture, located inside one of the adjacent buildings. Oh, and the old Portland Public Art blog hated it (as usual), calling it "astonishingly ugly" and "a booby prize, probably selected by a committee of department heads as a perk for putting up with construction delays". The rest of the post continues in a similar vein. I used to aspire to that level of invective now and then, not so many years ago; now I'm just happy when I remember I still have a blog and ought to hit publish at least once a month.

Capt. George Vancouver statue

Next up is the Captain George Vancouver statue in VanWa at W. 6th & Esther, across the street from Esther Short Park. This was created back in 2000 by local sculptor Jim Demetro. As I suspected, this is far from the only statue of George Vancouver out there; there's one in front of City Hall in that other city of Vancouver, and one in King's Lynn, Norfolk, UK, and a gold one atop the British Columbia provincial parliament. The one we're looking at here is by far the most goofy-looking of the four.