Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Public Art Unveiled at USM

Mark Wethli, Painter, Sculptor and Bowdoin College professor was celebrated Friday by a standing room only crowd at the Muskie Center on the USM campus in Portland. Wethli has just unveiled his large installation Civitas in the forum of the Wishcamper Center. The sculpture is a distillation of Lorenzetti’s “the Effects of Good Government” a fresco in the city hall of Sienna, Italy. The sculpture is indeed an “effect of good government” -- one of the many pieces of public art, including Wethli’s Civitas companion piece Locus in the entry of the Glickman Library, installed throughout the state of Maine through the Percent for Art program administered by the Maine Arts Commission.
Here are Mark Wethli’s remarks at the event:

...I’m honored to be here today, and more than honored that the University of Southern Maine has commissioned me to add not one but two works of public art to its campus; the one we see here in the Nichol Forum of the Wishcamper Center, and it’s companion piece, Locus, located next door at the Osher Map Library.

Long before I moved to Maine in 1985, the name and reputation of Edmund Muskie were among my earliest impressions of the Pine Tree State. The values reflected in Ed Muskie’s character and distinguished record of public service as Maine’s Governor, a US Senator, and Secretary of State are embodied in this building and its programs. One of my chief ambitions for this piece was to make it a worthy reflection of the values he stood for and the mission of the Muskie School of Public Service. I’m honored to have my work associated with his legacy.

Likewise, the Osher Map Library is an incredible gift to the people of Maine, and the world, a treasure trove for researchers, the general public, and not least of all, map lovers such as me. It is truly one of the gems of Maine’s intellectual and cultural life. My goal for Locus was to likewise create a public artwork that would honor this extraordinary archive.

When the artist Mark Rothko was asked why there weren’t any figures in his paintings--just large fields of color—he answered by saying that you’re the figure. Long before I heard it put that way, I had the same ambition for my own work. As a public artist I want my work to set the stage for the life going on around it, to create a dynamic visual field in which people can engage their own thoughts and impressions, their lives, and one another. I hope to make visitors here more aware of the space around them and their place within it, of the meaning and purpose of being here, of what brought them here, of what they hope to achieve here, and to return that experience to the world at large.

Both Civitas and Locus greet us as we arrive, and each of them is hard to miss when we walk through the door. Like the homes and storefronts we walk by on a daily basis, I designed each of them to be a part of the landscape of their environment; to provide a lively backdrop to the
activities going on around them.

My ambition for each of these pieces is to create a space that actively places every viewer in the foreground of the events and activities that happen here.

Having two works of public art in such close proximity to one another also gave me a unique opportunity to relate them in some way. While each piece speaks to the unique nature and purpose of its site, they likewise share certain formal similarities that bear comparison. The basic design of Civitas also appears in Locus, but refigured from a low-relief, three-dimensional construction to lines on a two-dimensional surface.

Locus’s abstract language—a network of lines reminiscent of roadways, air and sea routes, lines of latitude and longitude, and GPS satellite connections, superimposed on the silhouette of Buckminster Fuller’s innovative Dymaxion map (which also appears on the fa├žade of the
Osher Library building)—is meant to pay homage to the history and language of cartography.

The formal language of Civitas—a dance of architecturally inspired forms that are meant to suggest both conflict and harmony—is meant to evoke the ideal process of civic life, community building, and the common good.

Just as map-making renders the three-dimensional world in two dimensions and public policy projects abstract principles into real life, so do Locus and Civitas represent and symbolize these processes through their structure and design.

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1 comment:

Kevin said...

I find this sculpture to be very engaging. Can't wait to check it out on location.