By Don macGillivray
You may have noticed the towering sixty foot high rust-colored steel sculpture at the corner of SE Grand Ave. and SE Hawthorne Blvd. The massive installation is made of weathered Cor-Ten steel and is intended to remind the viewer of the industrial and warehouse buildings found here in the early twentieth century.
The skeletal structure seems to be like a floating ghost that is a marker of the Phoenix Iron Foundry that used to be on the site. Its twin is under construction at SE Grand Ave. and SE Belmont St. where an art modern factory once stood. Construction was recently begun and it will be finished by this fall. The sculptures are not intended to be exact replicas, but rather artists’ interpretations of these historical SE sites.
Both works of art are funded by the new Eastside central loop extension of the trolley line along SE Grand Ave. and SE Martin Luther King Blvd. near the on-ramps of the Hawthorne and Morrison bridges. The works are entitled “Inversion: Plus Minus”.
The name comes from the pair of sculptures; one that appears like a solid building and the other that is a building enclosure that emphasizes its negative space. In other words, the space enclosed by the solid parts of the sculpture.
They are the work of Seattle’s Lead Pencil Studio designers Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo. Ms. Han attended David Douglas High School and both are graduates of the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts. Han and Mihalyo are thoughtful, serious artists that have a number of large scale projects to their name. They’ve received the prestigious Rome Prize for their art work.
The appearance of these sculptures has been a surprise to the 100,000 daily users of the two bridges and many others in the Central Eastside. Commuters will need to get used to the mammoth metal sculptures and some are not sure they qualify as art.
While the Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) went through a public process that included the selection with a panel of local artists, neighborhood business owners and employees, the process did not include outreach to the local neighborhood and business associations.
The SE Hawthorne sculpture is across the street from the Multnomah County offices in the Multnomah building. RACC and uses using about half of the $1.4 million, two percent for art budget for these contemporary art works.
The sculptures will need to be completed before the public understands what we have, but as of now there are questions about its appearance and acceptance. It is hoped that these major new features will age gracefully and fit into the context of the East Portland Historic District and the future changes to the area.
In the fall and winter another large scale, eccentrically shaped art feature will be built in NE Portland near the east end of the Broadway Bridge.
It is a sculptural shelter 35 feet long, 18 feet wide and 16 feet tall made of steel, wood, and fiberglass. The artist is Jorge Pardo from Los Angeles who is a recipient of a 2010 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.
Transit riders will experience and use a sculptural shelter that represents “rain on the outside, sunshine on the inside”. It is made of 300 panels that will greet Tri-met patrons with shades of gray on the exterior and vibrant orange and reds on the interior while they wait for the next trolley.
In addition to this project, there will be some attractive etched glass images on two of the trolley shelters along the line. They will include pictorial views of Portland with a streetcar as a major feature. One includes bouquets of roses, the icon of Portland and the other uses cabbages to remind us of the wholesale and retail produce markets that filled much of the Central Eastside in the early twentieth century.
These sculptures are sure to be noticed. They represent the merger of East Portland with the changes that are inevitable. SE Grand Ave. and SE Martin Luther King Blvd. seem to be ideally situated for future development.
The real estate economy is recovering and new apartment buildings are under construction in SE Portland. The new trolley is expected to help transform the underutilized surface parking and one story buildings into commercial, residential, and light manufacturing.
As the trolleys fill with riders, pedestrian-scale development will follow. These sculptures will be the gateways for three of the bridgeheads on the eastside and express a desire on these streets for a more vibrant, prosperous urban future.