Saturday, August 04, 2018

Millikan Way MAX art

Ok, so this next public art post is about the Millikan Way MAX station, which has sort of a STEM theme due to the old Beaverton Tektronix campus next door. I took a couple of photos when I was there a few years ago, figuring I could grab a quotable blurb about it from one of the usual places, and poof, there's your blog post. And then the search came up empty, and this post sank to the bottom of the Drafts folder and didn't get a second glance for ages.

TriMet's art guide for the westside Blue Line merely says the station as a whole was designed by the "Westside design team", and describes a few of the features, without listing titles or artists for most of them:

Trees, wetlands and the nearby Tektronix campus inspired the Westside design team artists’ theme of nature bumping up against high technology.

  • Brick patterns on the systems buildings suggest coniferous and deciduous trees
  • The songs of local birds are etched in bronze plaques along the trackway
  • Clusters of leaves, seeds and pine cones are sandblasted in 30 locations in the plaza
  • Test patterns and mathematical symbols on graph paper are created in terrazzo
  • Christopher Rauschenberg’s "Time Window<" documents the view from the shelter in 1994

This whole thing seemed unusually vague; I finally understood why after I found a 1998 Oregonian article reviewing the art for the Blue Line's grand opening, back when that was something newspapers did. Millikan Way just gets a brief mention in the article, grouped with a few others: "Beaverton Transit Center, Beaverton Central, Millikan Way and Beaverton Creek: These four stations embrace nearly all the cliches of 90s public art, from photographs etched on the shelters, to cosmic allusions and navigation devices integrated into the paving patterns."

The article explains that MAX stations east of 185th don't have freestanding art because the feds prohibited federally funded projects from buying art during the initial phase of the project, until the rules changed in 1995. It doesn't explain when the earlier rules were put in place, but I suspect that came out of the Mapplethorpe/Serrano culture wars of the late 80s and early 90s. The pre-1995 rules had a small loophole in that they didn't prohibit you from hiring artists for your design team, and then having them do decorative pavers, designs on brick buildings, themed benches, etc. and classify it all as design rather than capital-A art. So that's basically what TriMet did, and I suppose this is why we aren't told exactly who designed what.

In discussing "cliches of 90s public art", the Oregonian piece mentions "The Kudzu Effect (or: The Rise of a New Academy)", a brief and snarky 1996 article by Joyce Kozloff. It lists ten contemporary public art cliches, which seem as contemporary now as they were in 1996; her names for them give a bit of the flavor of the article:

  1. It’s a Small World
  2. Junior High School Science Project
  3. Junior High School Geography Project
  4. The Artist/Architect Collaboration (also known as the The Two’fer)
  5. Kids “R” Us
  6. Heal the Earth Project
  7. The Artist/Writer Collaboration
  8. The New Age Observatory (also known as Son et Lumière)
  9. Transgressions and Interventions
  10. Triumphal Arch to Nowhere and Domestic Obelisk

Kozloff explains this style as a reaction to the arts community being besieged by angry fundies. I suppose the idea was that upbeat and inoffensive art might placate the Moral Majority goons, or at least they'd go yell at somebody else for a change. Which worked, in a away, in that you rarely see them hollering about art anymore. Although now they won't shut up about Trump's divine infallibility and all the races, religions, and other groups they want to wipe off the face of the earth. I am unsure that this is a real improvement.