I Know It When I See It

Had the bike out Sunday.  I decided to venture off my usual 3-mile circuit through Downtown Memphis.  I headed down to Martyrs Park, where I got a look at the river side of the Horizon.  That side of the building has the same not-quite-done look as it does on the Riverside Drive side I pass in the morning on my way to work.  I took the pedestrian bridge into South Bluffs to see what the old neighborhood looked like.  When I was in the apartments there in the 90s, there were hardly any houses.  It’s just so different now. I thought the classic Bentley I saw parked on one of the streets was pretty cool.

Crime Scene?

Crime Scene?

Back over the bridge and down to Tom Lee and once around the park.  I crossed Riverside and carried my bike up the steps to Vance Park and saw this (left).

I hate to be the smart mouth my ex-wife always accuses me of being, but my first  thought was, “finally, someone saw that thing as being a crime!”

The piece is described by the Memphis Riverfront website as “a pleasing piece of public art which doubles as a park bench.”  It proves I don’t particularly appreciate abstract art, even though having a bench at the top of those stairs is a good idea.

There wasn’t a sign explaining the tape, so I have to assume the thing is busted somehow.  But with abstract art, how can you tell?

Bob & Abe

It reminds me of something I saw in 1986 in Casper, Wyoming.  I had my first paying TV job there, doing weather and feature reporting at the CBS station.  I had gone to the Natrona County Public Library for a card and saw an abstract by noted sculptor Robert Russin.  If you’re ever on I-80 east of Laramie, you may see a giant bust of Abraham Lincoln.  The late Mr. Russin sculpted it to mark the highest point on the old Lincoln Highway.

Anyway, a quick shout out to my late father and my mom, who’s retired and living in Florida.  Thanks for giving me a love of reading! So, the area around Casper had been flush with oil money in the years before I moved there, and there had been a spate of public building… city hall, county building, community center, library… and the attendant art that goes with it when the money’s there.

On His Head

On His Head

So, it’s the spring of ’86 and I’m at the library and I have one of my first experiences with Mr. Russin’s work.  It’s Prometheus reaching for the flame, or some such.  You can kind of see it, I guess.  But that wasn’t the only Russin piece that graced downtown Casper at the time.



“The Fountainhead” is in front of City Hall.  I don’t know who the kids dancing in the water as supposed to be, or whether the piece has anything to do with Ayn Rand’s book.  She’s an author I haven’t worked my way around to yet.



A third Russin piece, “Man and Energy,” was in front of the Chamber of Commerce (although I understand that a couple of years back it was moved to the campus of Casper College).

Anyway, I did a little tongue-in-cheek piece on how odd I tended to find abstract art… and that three very abstract pieces by the same guy ended up in within a few blocks of each other.  By contrast, I think I stumbled across a more standard statue of a cowboy (not hard to find in that part of the country) and showed that.

When talking about abstract art in Memphis, I suppose I could have ridden the bike up to the convention center and grabbed a picture of the MLK piece on Main Street.  I still don’t get that.  Anyway, I’m not trying to get the art community up in arms.  Do what you do.  If people enjoy it, fine.  I’m just saying that if I have to use my imagination to figure out what it is, then to me, the artist didn’t do his or her job.  I’m okay with art making you think… I just didn’t think that included thinking about what it is… I thought you were supposed to be thinking about what it means.


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