From a couple of blocks away, the piece looks like a ring of perched birds. But from a closer vantage point, it becomes clear that the wreath adorning the side of DST Inc.’s Poindexter Parking Structure at Ninth and Central streets is made up of thinkers. More precisely, 18 fiberglass reproductions of Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” comprise the latest addition to Kansas City’s public art collection, unveiled earlier this month.
Titled “Rodin Rodannadanna” (as in Roseanne Roseannadanna), the Donald Lipski sculpture was commissioned by CDFM2 Architecture and DST as a celebration of the architecture firm’s 20th anniversary and Kansas City’s sesquicentennial. The piece is also part of an effort to revitalize the Avenue of the Arts, a stretch of Central Street spanning seven blocks (from Ninth to 16th streets) dotted with performance spaces.
The purpose of public art, other than to improve its surroundings, is to bring art to an audience that wouldn’t normally seek it. Because such pieces attract so much attention and as a result become sources of contention, too often the effect is to make them more palatable for the masses — and thus less challenging. Kansas City is no stranger to public art controversies. Many bold pieces have drawn fire here, from Bartle Hall’s “Sky Stations” to “Modern Communication” at 12th and Cherry. Nor is the New York-based Lipski unfamiliar with such debates. In the late 1980s he designed a piece commissioned by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority for a commuter rail station that involved sculptures of barnyard animals. Unbeknownst to Lipski, the relationship between the authority and the public was already tense, and the commuters saw the animals as an insult, a reference either to the commuters’ being rural or to their being like animals themselves. Lipski eventually pulled out of the project.
But in this case, there should be no need for hand-wringing. In “Rodin Rodannadanna,” Lipski has created a piece that — other than its annoying and dated title — is pretty easy to digest.
That may be why the community-based jury panel chose the artist to design the $200,000 project. Lipski is known for his quirky sensibility and a tendency to employ found objects in uncommon settings. His style has been described by The New York Times as “sculptural alchemy.”
In a press release issued before the unveiling, Lipski revealed little about the piece, other than to coyly explain, “While the work has no exact ‘message,’ I am sure it will give Kansas City something to think about.”
The pun aside, it’s questionable whether the piece really will prompt Kansas Citians to think much. One of the main reasons Lipski chose to use “The Thinker” was that the well-known sculpture was part of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s collection. Sadly, the reference to the Kansas City connection may be lost on people outside art circles, the very audience public art is most intended for.
However, by employing “The Thinker,” a well-known image, Lipski has created a piece that is accessible, in general, to those outside the art world. And although “The Thinker” is a revered artwork, “Rodin Rodannadanna” doesn’t take itself too seriously. While innocuous, it’s just quirky enough to garner attention (sans controversy, of course).
The work changes throughout the day as the shadows cast upon the side of the parking garage become part of the piece. After dark, the sculpture is an entirely new piece, with the individual “Thinkers” washed in a blue light that’s not so bright as to look garish, but bright enough to bring out the detail in the reproductions and hide the ring connecting the 18 pieces.
“Rodin Rodannadanna” currently serves as a finale to the temporary public art pieces installed at intersections down the Avenue of the Arts, another project initiated by CDFM2 and DST in an effort to spark more public art offerings in the area. Heading north on the one-way street, motorists and pedestrians encounter six works along Central, including Ken Landauer’s giant underwear strung on a line across the intersection at 12th and Central (meant as a nod to the Garment District and the Folly Theater’s burlesque past), Jesse Small’s decorated and decimated U.N. Jeep, and street plates shaped like stealth bombers at 14th and Central.
Those who happen past the temporary pieces are certain to notice them; there’s no way to ignore the huge inner tubes stacked on light poles at the corner of 10th and Central. But at the end of The Avenue, Lipski’s rather harmless piece, though unique and fun, just isn’t as challenging.
Permanent sculpture by Donald Lipski
at Ninth and Central streets