May 5, 2010

Open to the public

The city of Portland's catalog of public art has added several pages in recent years. We took a look at some of these highly visible displays and found a few clinkers, but also lots to like.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: Various public art projects in Portland, photographed on Friday, November 13, 2009.

click image to enlarge

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: Various public art projects in Portland, photographed on Friday, November 13, 2009.

THE BLUEPRINT, Chris Denison, 48 Free St.

The idea of making a full-scale architectural drawing on a building alone is funny, but this mural delivers the concept handsomely as well. It is not only witty, but educational: even a quick glance can help the casual passer-by understand a bit about architecture and how a building is transformed from an idea into reality. This mural gives a quick journey to the world of ideas and abstraction and back. It also delivers a terrific sense of site and reminds the viewer to take a look at the architecture of Portland. Situated quietly on the back side of a building on a one-way street, this mural is a largely hidden gem. -- D.K.

A clever, tidy concept. The interplay between the drawing of the building and the building itself is deft. A very successful result. -- P.I.

JOHN FORD, George Kelly, Gorham's Corner, at Fore, Center, Pleasant, York and Danforth streets

It took a woman from Louisiana to put a sculpture of Oscar-winning movie director John Ford in his native city. Until this piece went up in 1998, courtesy of a Ford family friend from the south, Portland had nary a single memorial to this native son, which borders on shameful. Casual and relaxed with his signature hat and pipe, Ford cuts an elegant pose. But this tribute is problematic in its location. It's not a pedestrian-friendly corner, which means that the written tablets around the base that explain Ford's accomplishments are lost. But it's a handsome, if awkward, sculpture nonetheless. -- B.K.

THE BAD

TRACING THE FORE, Shauna Gillies-Smith, Fore Street at Boothby Square

By all accounts, the idea for this piece is intelligent, creative and interesting. Yet it does not achieve the legibility needed to be an effective work of public art. The piece is an homage of sorts to the Fore River that once flowed where Fore Street now runs. The long grass hints at the liquidity of the long gone and long forgotten water of the site. However, it just appears as overgrown grass with a few interrupting shards of jagged steel. We are told that in time, the grass will mature and resemble wave action in the wind. Let's hope so. In the meantime, smart intentions do not save this piece from being a complete failure -- D.K.

MOONTIDE GARDEN, Mags Harries and Lajos Hder, International Ferry Terminal

This installation commissioned by the Maine Department of Transportation is an example of a smart concept that fails to make its content legible to the casual viewer. The terminal itself is handsome, so the failure of this site is a particular disappointment. The concept is based on a series of boulders that sit in a stony yard and are marked by aluminum leaf to a line indicated by the highest moon tides of the year -- an exciting idea considering the local tides are more than 10 feet. During a regular tide, however, the field is dry and the installation does not make sense unless the viewer reads an explanation. Even then, the impact of the silver fails to offer any visual strength. Further eluding legibility is a series of strips of eelgrass. Do they have any meaning, or are they just filler? -- D.K.

ARMILLARY SPHERE (untitled), Pat Plourde, Commercial Street, near Casco Bay Ferry terminal

This is an example of a timid essay in a great location. The concept -- a globe on a stand -- is mundane, and offering it in rusting steel diminishes it further. Corten steel requires an aesthetic adjustment. It works on large pieces, but on a small piece it looks as though it's a step away from discard. The skeletal form of the work adds to the feeling of neglect. -- P.I.

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