Active cloud sculpture actually brightens park on North Side
May 19, 2012 4:00 AM
Artist Ned Kahn watches his sculpture at work during a test of his "Cloud Arbor" in the new Buhl Community Park at Allegheny Square on the North Side.
By Kaitlynn Riely Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
On one of those all-too-rare sunny Pittsburgh days, Ned Kahn brought clouds to the North Side of the city.
The artist, who lives north of San Francisco, spent Friday morning testing his partially completed "Cloud Arbor," a sculpture commissioned by the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh for Buhl Community Park at Allegheny Square.
Mr. Kahn's cloud of fog won't, as the poem says, come in on little cat feet. When completed, his sculpture will consist of 64 steel poles, each reaching 32 feet into the sky and containing nozzles that spray a fine mist of water into the air, creating a cloud that either lingers in place or moves with the wind. It's a design that almost calls to mind Pittsburgh's industrial past.
Yet as Mr. Kahn's sculpture created clouds on a mostly cloudless day, it begged the question: Does an often overcast city need a new cloud factory?
It's a question Mr. Kahn has heard before. The artist, who has designed fog sculptures for the often foggy San Francisco, is quick to point out the silver lining of typically unwelcome weather phenomenons.
He said his art, which uses fog as a sculptural material, makes people see fog and clouds in a novel way.
"If you step back and look at it, it's incredibly beautiful and interesting," he said. "I feel the same way about clouds, and I just want to call people's attention to it."
Mr. Kahn, who also designed the facade of the Children's Museum eight years ago, stood next to his creation Friday as it created a cloud that swirled around him, then quickly dissipated.
"The whole idea is that it appears and disappears, like real clouds," he said.
The sculpture, still in a partially completed state, produced more clouds Friday than Jane Werner, the executive director of the Children's Museum, had expected. She gave it her approval.
"I think it's just fabulous," she said. "You know, you have to do things big, and we are very excited about it."
She said the sculpture -- when combined with the acre-and-a-half of green space as well as tables and chairs that will fill up the park -- creates something solid in a spot that has long been empty and desolate.
It's unique enough that it could draw visitors to Pittsburgh once the park opens June 23, said Chris Siefert, deputy director of the Children's Museum.
And where some may see a surplus of clouds, Mr. Siefert sees the poetry of fog, the way it expresses the movement of the wind.
"It demonstrates the swirling emotion of things we cannot see. It makes them visible," he said.
As he stood within the swirling cloud created by the sculpture, Mr. Siefert saw nothing but blue skies ahead.
"Its drama is really exceeding my expectations," he said.