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The ‘Echo’ heard ’round the world 

Or at least Little Rock.

click to enlarge UNDER ATTACK: For its appearance.
  • UNDER ATTACK: For its appearance.

Arkansas's federal judges are “horrified” and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has become completely unhinged over events at the courthouse at Broadway and Capitol Avenue. Government agents have been called in.

But it's not the Bush administration's machinations to make sure the scales of justice tip to the benefit of Republican ideologues that's got them going, or some other miscarriage of justice.

No, it's a stainless steel sculptural water feature installed on the plaza in front of the Richard Sheppard Arnold Courthouse. A sculpture attacked for its appearance (more HVAC than Hummel) and price ($391,000 — or a half of one percent of the cost of the construction of the new courthouse, dedicated in 2007). The judges want the General Services Administration to remove it. The GSA's public art program people would rather not. The artist suggests modifications to her design by cost-conscious bureaucrats are to blame.

Everyone else has weighed in, so I will too.

“Echo Dynamics,” designed by Mikyoung Kim, the principal in a landscape architecture firm in Brookline, Mass., is made up of four polished chutes that intersect at varying heights. Water burbles up from one end of the chute and drains at the other, flowing over a surface of V-shaped treads that direct the water and create a splashy sound.

The chutes are placed in a way that creates an arc that complements (echoes) the round entrance to the courthouse. The low-to-the-ground horizontal form underlines, rather than bisects, the façade of the building. The v-shaped treads, or tiny weirs, play off the lines of the building blocks and bricks. The water splishes soothingly.

Is it a perfect installation? No. Here's what it needs: A division between the sculpture and the plaza, either in elevation or material. Our psyches demand a separation that distinguishes art from non-art. An apple on the ground is leftover lunch; an apple on a pedestal is (or can be) art. Instead of being plopped on the sidewalk, the piece should have been surrounded by water or a bed of river rock or placed on some kind of base. The artist proposed that it be surrounded by trees and benches. It's not. There's nothing to draw the eye away from rivets on the undergirding. That bothers people.

But is it horrifying? There's a lot going on in government buildings that's horrifying. “Echo Dynamics,” not so much.

 

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