Richard Taylor sculptures hope to alight on Tosa’s Hart Park
Public sculptures are shat upon by birds and launched into the water (to wit: a Beastie seen surfing the Milwaukee River). They’re stolen (one of Gertie The Duck’s ducklings), re-positioned, re-painted (see below) and verbally abused. Milwaukeeans and others continue to talk about the orange Mark di Suvero sculpture (“The Calling”) at the far eastern end of Wisconsin Avenue. It’s grand, bodacious, and controversial.
On private property, heavy sculptures are often left behind when the owners relocate. Thirty years ago, I moved into a home fronted by “Madonna,” a sculpture the previous owners had decided to paint pink, possibly to match their roses. I spent the next two months stripping it back to the original bronze. I’m not entirely innocent: I left an excellent Steve Fisher sculpture behind when I moved out of Bay View. I heard later that the new owners donated it for a fundraiser. There is guilt associated with abandoning art that others could fiddle with. And fiddle they do.
Public sculpture in particular causes hand-wringing; people get bent out of shape. The rusting heap (my words) in Catalano Square (“Stratiformis,” 2006) has been called a “Brown Smudge,” and I’ve heard “Birds of Knowledge of Good & Evil” (Magdalena Abakonowicz), decried as “Birds on Sticks.” Yes, we have aesthetically problematical sculptures, but we also have beautiful pieces, including those by Richard Taylor, whose six sculptures are about to be reunited in Wauwatosa’s Hart Park.
Originally commissioned by Gary and Susan Zimmerman and the Wauwatosa BID, the welded aluminum beauties, ranging in height from 4’ to 10’, were originally sited near the Village Bridge. Built specifically for that space, alas, two were de-installed to make way for a fountain and public seating, and then stored in the DPW garage.
It’s enough to make a sculptor weep, especially a highly credentialed chap with numerous public works around Milwaukee and the nation. As I write, Taylor is busy preparing for a December solo exhibition at OK Harris Gallery in New York City. The recipient of numerous commissions, in 1991 he earned his MFA in Painting and Drawing from UW-Milwaukee. He has a B.A. in Art History and has taught courses in drawing. His website illuminates his extensive bio.
It’s notable, I think, to remind readers that drawing is all about “line.” In effect, Taylor uses line to bring his sculptures to clean and modern fruition. His approach is disciplined, his craftsmanship excellent, and he thoroughly understands that art is rooted in a most basic element: the line.
Working with Engberg Anderson, Inc. architect, Edward Haydin, Taylor notes that all six sculptures will reunite on a grassy triangle near the new Performance Pavilion. Two will tower on concrete arcs (Taylor describes them as “tasteful”), and the others will be nearby for folks of all ages to enjoy during next summer’s series of concerts. The Pavilion (a.k.a. the band shell), is slickly modernist, a lyrical canopy if you will, and the overall and very major project fixes the ravages of the June ’97 Honey Creek/Menomonee River flood. However, Mother Nature’s decision to move things wasn’t all bad. Enter flood control experts to solve the problem, thus adding acres to the amazing park, located at 7300 Chestnut Street.
Architect Haydin (whose discipline is also rooted in the line) is shaping a fun splash pad and an interpretive playground based on a “pre-settlement” theme. He fully supports the inclusion of Taylor’s sculptures and, in fact, would like to see more modernism and abstraction on the Wisconsin landscape. He remarked that the aforementioned di Suvero is “a great and provocative piece, now deeply fixed in our history in Milwaukee, and reinforced by the continual discussion.” He also believes that healthy discourse is what Modern Art requires in order to stay relevant.
Engberg Anderson is no stranger to impressive projects: the Third Ward RiverWalk, Brookfield’s Wilson Center Pavilion, Milwaukee’s Alterra on the Lake, and Ten Chimneys. Taylor has taken care to include historical references in the about-to-be-reunited sculptures, details that will punctuate a unique intersection on the grounds: daylilies (the city flower), tracings of fireflies (Wauwatosa is a derivative of the Potawatomi word for firefly), references to the mill wheels which once stood on the site and a plow-shape echoing nearby farming.
It takes hard work and considerable thought for artist, architect, and involved citizens to come together to resolve issues brewing over the sculptures. Not everyone agrees all of the time, but Mayor Didier and the Village BID are on record in their support of Taylor’s sculptures.
Along those very lines (no pun intended), in the face of dissent by some Wauwatosa Rotarians, who feel the sculptures don’t complement the band shell design, Didier has scheduled final resolution of the Hart Park sculpture “situation” until the full Council’s Nov. 17 meeting. Democracy will have its day, and Wauwatosa Patch recently did an interesting piece on the current kerfuffle. Read more about it here.