15 sculptures dress up Gateway Center plazas
A pedestrian passes Seward Johnson's painted bronze sculpture, "Contact," in Gateway Center.
Tourists Lexi Danielle, left, and Star Guild of Indianapolis take photos with painted bronze sculpture "Allow Me" in Gateway Center.
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Those silent folk standing, sitting and working around Gateway Center haven't been body snatched by an alien force. They're actually realistic bronze figures by sculptor Seward Johnson brought to Pittsburgh by the Laurel Foundation to draw visitors and area residents Downtown. The 15 works will remain in place through Aug. 5.
The figures blend into the city because they're of people you're likely to see on a given day: a child crossing the street, a man sitting on a bench under the trees, a window washer.
"People were stopping and talking with one another [in front of them]," said Laurel Foundation president Elizabeth Tata as the sculptures were being installed Wednesday. "Just what we wanted them to do. It's a neat way to connect the community to art."
It took a bit of coordinating to get the several-hundred-pound artworks here, Ms. Tata said, "but if we can bring a smile to your face, or a smile to a face of a child, it was all worth it."
She cautioned, however, "Don't be insulted if the gentleman sitting on the bench doesn't answer you. He isn't ignoring you. He's just a little bit preoccupied."
Mr. Johnson, 80, is a philanthropist and heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortunes. He has exhibited nationally and internationally, and his work is in private and public collections. Many of his pieces are permanently displayed at Grounds for Sculpture, a 35-acre contemporary sculpture garden he founded in Hamilton, N.J., where his studio is.
The figures shown here are from Mr. Johnson's "Man on the Street" series, parts of which have been exhibited in cities throughout North America, Europe and Asia.
The Laurel Foundation doesn't typically initiate projects, Ms. Tata said, citing as their last such experience DynoMite Days, the highly successful 2004 event that resulted in colorful artist-decorated dinosaurs popping up throughout the city. The foundation has always been a supporter of local artists, she said.
Several of the office staff had seen Mr. Johnson's work in places such as Chicago and New York, and she had seen the artist's sculpture in New Hope, Bucks County, and the Florida Keys. The foundation considered purchasing his sculpture for Pittsburgh a few years ago, but that idea was set aside. The traveling works provide the perfect opportunity to bring in some and gauge response, Ms. Tata said. When she talked to people at Hertz Investment Group, Gateway's owners, "they were thrilled."
Ms. Tata and Hertz representatives originally selected 10 sculptures from the series to exhibit. They also invited input from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to ensure that the pieces and their locations would complement rather than conflict with the Three Rivers Arts Festival, which runs June 1-10.
"We wanted people to see them during the festival," Ms. Tata said, "but also to give people a reason to come in after the festival to dine in some of the new Downtown restaurants, see the new Market Square."
They had just finalized planning when The Sculpture Foundation, which arranges the artwork loans, called and asked, "What would you think of us sending you five more [at no extra charge]?" Ms. Tata said. "Everyone scurried to replan the maps, change the brochure. I was tickled."
A brochure showing the 15 sculptures' locations is available at lobby security desks in the four Gateway Center buildings, at kiosks in the sculpture area and at www.laurelfdn.org.
The anomaly among the contemporary figures is "Monet, Our Visiting Artist," dressed in period clothing. He's standing at the fountain at One Gateway Center, brush in hand, and on the "canvas" in front of him is an image of the Pittsburgh fountain. How did that happen?
With that piece, Ms. Tata explained, The Sculpture Foundation offers the host city the opportunity to have a local image as the painting's subject. The foundation sent a photograph of the fountain, and to tilt illusion just a little further, art festival booths appear in the background, making for not only a Pittsburgh scene but one that will have uncanny resemblance to the week when the most people will be at the site.
She said that Mr. Johnson first makes a 12-inch high representation of a sculpture in clay, which he enlarges to a life-sized clay work for the bronze casting. It takes one year to complete a sculpture, on average. She said that he limits editions of most sculptures to seven and casts only when a piece is ordered. "After the seven are purchased by collectors, he invites them all to the foundry to celebrate the ceremonial destruction of the mold," she said.
Ten years ago, the artist began adding color to the statues to heighten the realism. Near Three Gateway Center, an older woman stands holding shopping bags.
"You can see the veins in her neck," Ms. Tata said.
First Published May 4, 2012 7:43 am