Sometimes, a touch of cartooning animates the everyday. Yayoi Kusama is famous for her Pumpkin on Japan’s Naoshima Island. She also created Les Tulipes de Shangri-La, commissioned for Lille, France, while the city was Europe’s designated Capital of Culture in 2004. Twisting up from the ground beside the grey train station, the larger-than-life flowers should seem cheerful with their colors and polka dots. But there’s something unnerving about them. Perhaps the flowers are poisonous, or predatory. For all their beauty, Kusama’s Tulipes are unsettling. And that’s okay.
It’s also hard to anticipate Kurt Perschke’s RedBall Project, which takes animism to its next level. An avid art lover would have to chase the sculpture across the globe: since 2001, the RedBall Project has appeared in over 25 cities internationally. A bright red, 15-foot-diameter orb is perched or crammed into a public place, remaining at a specific location for only one day. In every place, the work takes on a new life, new meaning; it relates differently to each venue.
Forgotten Songs (2009) by Michael Thomas Hill not only invigorates a public space, but also raises vital questions about a city’s relationship to nature. Over 100 empty birdcages overhang the laneway of Angel Place in Sydney, Australia. Playing alongside them are the cries of 50 native bird species that have been driven away by habitat loss. The acute absence, marked by the empty cages, is thought-provoking and raises serious questions about urbanization.
Helix Park in Falkirk, Scotland is also home to an unexpected installation: The Kelpies, by Scottish sculptor Andy Scott, rises almost 100 feet high over the Forth and Clyde Canal. The two sculptures depict a pair of equine heads, celebrating the country’s history of workhorses. Although The Kelpies are 300 tonnes of stainless steel, the porous metal panels that shape each head lend the sculpture a sense of elasticity — fitting, since in folklore the kelpie is a water-dwelling horse capable of assuming a human shape. Watch for the pair of smaller maquettes, which have toured numerous major cities including Chicago, Edinburgh and New York City.
Other street art interventions, this time of twin brothers Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, collectively known as OSGEMEOS, can be found across the globe. Their Giants series features cartoonish figures that are paradoxically lifelike; their textures and shadows rendered in baffling detail. Most of OSGEMEOS’s giants seem to emerge, or stand apart, from the surfaces on which they’re painted. In Vancouver, Canada, however, the artists transformed six cylindrical cement silos at Granville Island into a distinct cast of characters. The 360-degree mural is OSGEMEOS’s largest to date, with the six giants towering over False Creek.
Public art is everywhere. But a good artwork doesn’t have to stop people in their tracks, or elicit a strong and immediate reaction. It should simply move us to marvel or wonder. It has a good reason for being where it is, and hopefully it isn’t going anywhere soon.
Written by Justin Ramsey
Headline photo of Forgotten Songs (Michael Thomas Hill) by Shanti Hesse/Shutterstock