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Where's Our Grand Public Art?

By Eric Richardson
Published: Thursday, August 07, 2008, at 01:35PM
Brooklyn Bridge Waterfall Eric Richardson [Flickr]

This waterfall underneath the Brooklyn Bridge is one of four that make up the New York City Waterfalls, a public art piece by Olafur Eliasson.

New York City's East River is home to a different view than usual this summer, thanks to the New York City Waterfalls. The four man-made structures are 90 to 120 feet high, and were constructed at a cost of $15.5 million.

After spending the week in NYC and encountering the falls from different angles, I have to ask: where is Los Angeles' similarly grand temporary art?

Opened on June 26 and running until October 13, the New York City Waterfalls were designed by artist Olafur Eliasson, who specializes in public works. Funds were raised by the Public Art Fund, a thirty years old organization dedicated to bringing art outside the gallery. NYC Mayor Bloomberg estimated that the pieces would bring $55 million in economic benefit.

While New York City has a unique relationship with water that doesn't translate to Los Angeles, the commitment to dream big on a public art piece is something that should be right up Los Angeles' alley. And yet, what have our biggest pieces been? In recent years, perhaps only the Not a Cornfield project and the Community of Angels sculpture project start to move in that general direction, though neither approach this work's scale.

As Downtown continues to develop its reputation as the center of Los Angeles' art scene, we need to aim high on this sort of work, putting aside for a moment squabbles about whether people will like a piece to instead just do something grand. After all, it's only temporary.

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