It’s official: Takashi Soga’s proposal has been approved for the Lincoln Park site. On March 13, the public art committee voted in favor of Soga’s project, bringing some closure (for now) to what has been an arduous and controversial process.
First things first, though: some corrections and clarifications need to be made.
In Part One of this piece I included an excerpt from a press release written by Pegi Taylor of IN:SITE, and also stated that Soga’s project would cause the City of Milwaukee to incur an additional $100,000 on top of the $250,000 budget for this site.
I was able to obtain Takashi Soga’s official proposal (not available in time for Part One) and verified that each of Soga’s proposed pieces would stay within the amount allotted. However, the hubbub was not because of an additional $100K; it was simply that this amount of the budget would be spent on design fees, a misinterpretation on my part.
Despite the fact that the piece will stay within the budget, IN: SITE still questions whether $100K in design fees is “appropriate … for a piece Soga has already designed.” IN: SITE raises the question as to whether or not the design fees are “paying for [Soga’s] name.”
In Part One, I also reported that a proposal by local artists John Riepenhoff, Cat Pham and Sarah Luther was included in the top five submissions. It has come to my attention by selection committee member Barbara Opferman that this is also incorrect. Though an innovative concept, this project was not a finalist for the selection committee. However, it was favored by IN: SITE as a superior design.
That’s what we know now. Here’s what you may not know.
“We interviewed 3 artists,” says Opferman, “They were from Chicago, Iowa, and Canada. I believe we received about 10 responses from the community at that meeting. As a board, we were unable to come to a consensus for a variety of aesthetic and practical reasons, which is why we revised the RFP and decided to repeat the process.”
The second RFP went out in November 2008 and over 100 entries were reviewed.
Local sculptor Richard Taylor sat on the public art selection committee for this second round of submissions.
“We narrowed it down to a group of 6 or 8 potential artists, and with further discussion on each of these, found something to object to in all of them except Takashi Soga’s work,” Taylor says, adding, “There were a number of us on the committee who immediately reacted to Soga’s work as rising above all other entries.”
The principal objections to the other proposals were based on their vulnerability to vandalism, whether the materials used would stand up to the elements and issues of public safety (i.e., children potentially climbing on the artwork).
Taylor says that based on these objections, it was clear that the committee had a solid finalist in Takashi Soga and that to present the other choices would be to “present work which had some questionable aspects.”
Since Soga was the only finalist, he was asked by the committee to submit two additional proposals for the public meeting on March 7th, so that the public would have more than one option.
Unfortunately few members of the public came to that meeting, and even if they had it’s hard to say whether the outcome would be different.
From here, Soga’s three proposals will be further evaluated and the best site will be chosen once the weather permits and the Aquatic Center is closer to completion. If all goes according to plan, the piece will be installed by May 2010.
Soga will fabricate his work by himself in New York, another point of contention for opponents of his piece, since none of that money will be spent in Milwaukee.
But, as Richard Taylor points out, this is kind of a moot point.
“There is a minimalist exactness to Soga’s work, and an inner balancing system necessitating great care in fabrication,” he says, “and as an artist who fabricates all of my own work, I see it as obvious that Soga must fabricate his own sculptures in a very exacting manner.”
According to his proposal, Soga does intend to hire local contractors to fabricate the foundation for his piece and possibly assist in the installation.
At this point, there are still weeks of contract preparation and finalizations ahead before any work begins. After that, it will take Soga approximately eight months to build the piece, and then he’s at the mercy of Wisconsin weather when it comes time to paint and install.
In short, it’s not over yet, and the voices of dissent aren’t any quieter. For a prime example of this, check out what Stella Cretek aptly calls the “slap-down” that came from both sides of this coin after Soga’s recommendation was approved here and here.
Personally, I wasn’t blown away by Soga’s proposals, but I wouldn’t call it “plop art,” either. The magnitude of his pieces and their kinetic quality is meditative and peaceful. I think that his work will stand in stark contrast to the natural environment, but I’m not sure how well it will translate to future generations.
But I’m not an artist, so what do I know?
At the public meeting on March 7, while the floor was opened up for questions and Soga was trying his best to win the argument over site-specificity, he said one thing that stuck with me.
“I’m just an artist.”
He went further to explain that when he creates art, he means for it to transform to the site and respond to any environment or climate. With these statements, he effectuated the universal quality of his work, but it also seemed as though he was reminding everyone that he was merely a sculptor who submitted an application and was asked to present. Bluntly, don’t blame him because he was shortlisted.
For the rest of us, it’s time to move on. One year and hundreds of applications later, the decision has been made. Whether you love it or hate it, the silver lining in this situation is the passion is stirred up in parts of the Milwaukee art community – it’s inspiring to see people so enthusiastic about enhancing our city and enriching our culture.
If nothing else, when the next call for submissions goes out, I’ve got a dime that says we’ll see more than just a handful of local projects.