Part Two--Not Just a 'Walk in the Park': Site-specific Art

Today's blog post was written by Edward M. Richstone. Richstone is a retired school psychologist. He has written articles on a variety of topics for civic organizations and city newspapers.

In my previous blog, I described an encounter with Christy Hengst’s birds, suggested their symbolic purpose, and began to define “site-specific” and “installation art,” which characterizes Ms. Hengst’s work.

Site-specific art is sometimes constructed, not just planned but improvised, on-site. This is especially true when live performers are part of the showing, or when the viewing public is encouraged to participate, even something low-key like posing for pictures with the artwork.

I vividly recall two examples of “site-specific” art, the first one achieving perfect harmony with its setting, the second causing a sensation by giving the environment a drastically different look.

Residents of sleepy Winslow, Arizona must certainly perk up when talking about one piece of public art that has arguably become their town’s signature. Consisting of a statue and mural, the so-called “park” is down-home, and, artistically speaking, “site-specific,” in its kinship with the surroundings. Capturing the easygoing mood is an overhead sign on a lamppost behind the statue. It simply says, “Standin’ on the Corner.” It is nostalgia that makes this homespun tableau most memorable. For one thing, the sign’s shape and its street location evoke memories of historic Route 66. For another, the park’s name is part of the lyrics of the classic 1972 song, “Take It Easy,” composed and performed by the still popular rock band, The Eagles.

Easy by Ron Adamson
Photo courtesy artist

At this Eagles shrine, tourists find Ron Adamson’s life-size bronze figure of a man, standing in western wear, while holding upright an acoustic guitar. The backdrop is a trompe l’oeil (super-realistic) mural by John Pugh that appears on a façade, just a wall, not a building. On the “first floor”is a faux storefront window that appears to reflect the street image of a pickup truck, driven by a woman. She is the one who ogles the narrator of the song, “Take It Easy.” On the “second floor,” there are two windows—one with a sill on which an eagle is perched (a nod to the rock band), the other window revealing the aforementioned woman hugging the narrator, who, in the song, eventually climbs into her truck.

But site-specific art need not be physically permanent or meshed with its setting like “Standin on the Corner.” Take, for example, “The Gates.” by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. After just a two-week showing in February of 2005, the outdoor exhibition disappeared forever from New York City’s Central Park. But many still remember how approximately 7,500 fabric panels on poles formed a canopy lining twenty-three miles of pathways. What grabbed attention was the saffron-colored nylon flapping in the wind overhead, standing out amidst bare tree branches, and against the bleak sky of winter. Aside from color, it was also a strong contrast between human creation and natural environment. The large crowds, forming a serpentine procession, much denser than the usual flow along the narrow footpaths, became an integral part of the internationally publicized event.

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