The 2012 Avenue of the Arts is a testing ground for several artists unaccustomed to working large — and outdoors.
The weeks before the project’s Friday public opening saw plenty of logistical problems, as winds played havoc with Christa Dalien’s vinyl icicles draped on the Ten Central Car Park and unloosed some of the vinyl strips that make up Gina Alvarez’s abstract configurations pegged to the exterior of Bartle Hall.
Jarrett Mellenbruch, an experienced public artist who received a Rocket Grant last year to inaugurate his ongoing beehive sanctuary project, waited for delivery of 12 back-ordered hammocks destined for the green space south of the Bartle Hall ballroom.
And Mellenbruch’s hammocks had to go through a few revisions in response to practical matters of mowing and maintaining the park. The artist exchanged an earlier design involving wood posts for one with hammock stands that will be less invasive to the grounds.
For Kansas City public art administrator Porter Arneill, who has been in charge of the annual outdoor installations along Central Street for the past 10 years, glitches and revisions are nothing to worry about.
Arneill sees part of the role of the Avenue of the Arts as one of launch pad for public art neophytes.
“It’s a learning experience,” he said during a recent tour of the installations. “It’s a humbling experience for some. Public art is not for everybody.”
This year’s Avenue of the Arts features seven installations instead of the usual six and includes Alvarez and Robert Goetz from St. Louis, thanks to a grant from the Missouri Arts Council.
The other five artists, based in Lawrence and Kansas City, initially were chosen for the 2010 Avenue of the Arts, which didn’t happen because of funding and staff shortages.
In the interim, Mellenbruch reconceived his installation, coming up with the hammock idea after earlier concepts raised safety and sanitation questions. But in a recent interview, he said he has found a new home for one of his earlier ideas. This summer he will attend the master of fine arts program at the Maine College of Art in Portland, where he will set up stations equipped with tools and invite the public to participate in the creation of a series of sculptures.
“I really wanted to do something that had an interactive component,” he said.
The hammock installation, which he has titled “Float,” fits the bill.
“I came up with the idea while lying in a hammock and thinking how much I love that space — looking at two huge iconic buildings on either side,” Mellenbruch said.
“Whatever I did, I knew I couldn’t try to compete with the visuals going on already. I came to realize that what I enjoyed was just being there. I watched hawks flying around and other birds, and there was a little breeze. And if there was something that would allow people to come and enjoy it, it would be a great way to use the space.
“I liked the playfulness,” he added. “You’re not telling somebody what to do. The hammocks are there and are very inviting.”
With a hammock delivery date of June 9, Mellenbruch planned to spend this weekend putting them up.
The project features 12 hammocks that can fit two people and hold up to 450 pounds, he said.
Mellenbruch has been experimenting on the computer with how to arrange them and has concluded he will probably install them in either two rows of six or three rows of four.
“I played with clusters and grids,” he said. “I think I’ll place them in a straightforward grid pattern. I want it to feel like a little field of hammocks.”
“Float” will occupy the southernmost end of the 2012 Avenue of the Arts.
Elsewhere, the display includes an unusually high quotient of “plop art” — self-contained sculptural objects that are marginally involved with the specifics of their site. Most employ a vocabulary of abstraction.
Heading north, the next artwork in the group appears on the west side of the Bartle Hall ballroom.
“Planta Triformis,” by Sue Friesz, is a grouping of three cutout biomorphic shapes, made from painted and perforated aluminum and layered one in front of the other.
“It’s more dramatic at night,” Arneill said, noting that after dark, special lighting creates dramatic shadows on the wall behind the work and increases its sense of scale.
Like Friesz, Marilyn Mahoney is best known for her work in two dimensions. Titled “Blueprint,” her Avenue of the Arts installation draws on her signature vocabulary: blade and fanlike forms and imagery connoting lattices and scaffolds, which she has used recently in Mylar drawings.
Mahoney’s sculpture was fabricated in acrylic with photographic printing. Wrapped around a protruding limestone wall along Barney Allis Plaza, the work suggests a mask or shield.
Across the street, Alvarez’s “Strategies for Dispersion” comprises a series of linear constellations composed of vinyl strips from recycled billboards, mounted on the east-facing exterior of Bartle Hall. The artist used the existing casting holes to tether the strips, pegging them in with lengths of PVC pipe.
Stewart Losee’s “Non-Traditional Landscape” features a series of tetrahedrons, made with a computer-directed router and faced with acrylic sheets printed with abstract designs. He has assembled the pieces into a 3-D configuration mounted on the exterior wall of Bartle Hall near the corner of 12th and Central streets.
At 11th and Central streets, Goetz’s “ By Land, By Sea, By Air,” a triangle created from metal plates with cutout texts based on utterances from his young daughter, stands on the lawn of the Lyric Opera.
“Goetz is a printmaker, and he used his vocabulary of printing plates on a larger scale,” Arneill said. The decipherability of the texts — “I am a big yellow bear queen,” “I’m swimming like a robot whale,” “I am flying to you” — varies with the viewer’s vantage point.
Anchoring the project at the north end is Dalien’s “Ice Storm” installation utilizing billboard vinyl, which the artist has cut out and colored to suggest big ice fragments that hang from the roof and the parking stories of the garage at 10th and Central streets.
It looks great in a digital rendering, but can Dalien stop them from flapping in the wind in time for this week’s opening?
Arneill is hopeful, and he has been aided in the realization of this year’s Avenue of the Arts by landscape architect Carole Lechevin, who was brought in as a temporary project manager.
“She really deserves the credit for working with these artists and making sure that the art actually arrived on time,” he said.
The Avenue of the Arts is administered by the Avenue of the Arts Foundation (360 Architecture and DST Systems) and Kansas City’s Municipal Art Commission.KICK-OFF EVENT
An opening reception for the 2012 Avenue of the Arts, including light snacks, drinks and several food truck vendors, will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St. The artists will be on hand to answer questions, and the event will include remarks from public art administrator Porter Arneill and Jim Calcara from the Avenue of the Arts Foundation and 360 Architecture. The outdoor display will continue on view through Sept. 30.