May 5, 2015

Wheeling Community: Exploring Rochester’s Little Known Public Art by Kitty Jospé

Wheeling Community: Exploring Rochester’s Little Known Public Art by Kitty Jospé

On Sunday, May 3, over 80 people joined Bleu Cease, Executive Director/Curator at RoCo  and Photographer Richard Margolis for a tour of eight hidden treasures of public art.  This tour, in conjunction with the current exhibit, “Ride It:  Art and Bicycles in Rochester” at Rochester Contemporary Art Center (RoCo) celebrated the idea of “slow art” and a chance to notice not only what we often are hurrying by, but to think of larger implications of how we live in our environment.  

It is heart-warming to join with others on a sunny spring day, and discover art and the stories and contexts behind it—and this incredible dividend:  No, not the sounds of trains, or the way sculptures frame fascinating details of buildings, but a sense of feeling connected to others, and connected to our city. Did you know Rochester has had Liberty Poles at the same site since 1830?   What a surprise to arrive on site-specific six-part  Rochester Project, by Richard Fleischner.  It is a magnificent outdoor amphitheatre, looking out on three stone lattices, all the same size but with variations on details of doors, windows through which you can admire the architecture rising up from the Genesee River.  This was commissioned for Rochester’s sesquicentennial (150th) in 1987.

Have you ever paused by Duayne Hatchett’s Equilateral Six in front of the Kenneth B. Keating Federal Building on State Street ?  For those of us gathered in front of it on Sunday, we not only learned about the sculpture, installed in 1975, but also about the 1990’s trend of “plop art”.  One young man remarked on the Dunkin Donuts across the street from it,  inviting comparisons of color, shape, size. Where do we place public art, and how does art change our view of things?  

A highlight of the tour was to welcome Wendell Castle who spoke about his sculpture Twist located between the Sister Cities Pedestrian Bridge and Mortimer Street.  He explained the concept of this giant pretzel-shaped red plastic sculpture as a kit with a vocabulary of joints.  It was a pleasure to have him explain not only how he created the sculpture, but share his opinions about public art and site-specificity.  Richard Margolis had already introduced the concept of longevity regarding public art, saying it does not include murals as they won’t last. Wendell Castle opened up a different angle: considerations of upkeep, and how already the “very 70’s red” had already been re-painted and was due for yet another coat.  The questions and answers reflected a wonderful spirit of community, shared curiosity, and for many, a new awareness about public art.  I was pleased to find out about the “breathing holes” underneath the top arch, placed for practical reasons to regulate humidity, and enjoyed how beautifully the tall arches framed other buildings, echoed some of the window structures.

Another special speaker was Rebecca Fuss, Director of Programing at Central Library, who explained details about the Relief by Ulysses Ricci on the Rundel library and the story behind its funding. The gift from Morton W. Rundel  in 1911, to allow for a new library, due to complications, was not accessed until the depression. The ingenious use of the Genesee River for cooling is an example of ecological and practical thrift. Our Central Library continues to offer an amazing choice of programs and activities and is involved with “May as the Month of the bike”.  For history see:

Sunday’s tour reaffirmed for me a positive feeling about our City. Even if you could not be part of it, it’s not too late to get an idea of the scope. Many of you might recognize the name of Richard Margolis from his large photographs at the Rochester airport, celebrating the quality of life in Rochester.   He has compiled  an extensive list of Public Art in Rochester with photos and descriptions. See:
It is an amazing list, and already I am ready to explore the sites on the two sites.

Let’s ride, take time to notice what comes alive because we are attentive to it.  As Kurt Vonnegut says, the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.  Public Art is part of such a community.

Sites visited:

1.  “The Liberty Pole”  East Avenue to Main & Franklin Streets.
Dated:  1965.  Designed by architect James Johnson.  Material: Stainless steel
Rochester has had Liberty Poles at the same site since 1830, with as many as ten in various  other locations in the 1840s. They were often hickory or ash poles erected by political  clubs as symbols of strength to celebrate political or military victories. 
Mr. Johnson also designed the Mushroom House in Pittsford.

2.  “Main Street Bridge Railings”   Dated:  1989   by Albert Paley
Material:  Fabricated and forged steel
"Bausch & Lomb Corporation commissioned Albert Paley to provide the Main Street Bridge Railings ‘to make this important artist's work accessible to Rochester residents and city visitors, and to enhance the visual appeal of the refurbished Main Street area.’ “
Mercury can be seen in the distance on top of the Aqueduct Building.

3.  “Twist”   (1972 – 73)  by Wendell Castle 
Material:  Fiberglass; located by Radisson Riverside Hotel Driveway

4.  "Rochester Project"  by Richard Fleischner
Date:  1986   Material:  Enameled Steel
“The Rochester Project was installed as part of the Rochester Sesquicentennial.
  Public art isn't a hero on a horse anymore. For artists uncomfortable with the concept of  
  the artist as a loner making masterpieces from precious materials for wealthy  
  connoisseurs, collaborative projects involving architects, artisans, and contractors,  
   working with the environment represents the attitudes of a new generation. Fleischner 
   uses the specifics of the site, spatial relationships, and perception as components of his 

5.  “Equilateral Six”  by Duayne Hatchett 
       Dated:  1975.  Material:  Painted fabricated aluminum
    "Six equal planes formed and positioned in space change relationships according to the 
     observers movement, just as each person's experience in life mirrors their individual 

6.  “Trust and Security” Times Square Building (on Exchange Street); The Gannett Building has more bas-relief sculptures.   Dated:  1939   by Jesse Corbin   -  3:00         Material:  Carved Stone
The building is 260 feet tall, completed in 1930, In addition to the relief sculptures, "Wings of Progress" is located on top of the building.  The winged Times Square Building is a dramatic example of Art Deco architecture and a  
monument to progress. It has been a major city landmark since the Genesee Valley Trust 
Company completed its construction in 1930. The cornerstone of the building, ironically, 
was laid on October 29, 1929, the day the stock market crashed.

7.  “Rundell Library Relief”   
 Dated:  1936   Material:  Carved Stone
 The façade of the Rundel Memorial Library features Art Deco details and bas-relief 
 sculptures, by Ulysses Ricci of New York City, 1936. The man and woman touching the child between them synbolizes the continuity of life. The man holds a scroll and book 
symbolizing philosophy and biography. The woman carries a sword and two tablets of law symbolizing history and religion. The rays of light and festoons represent light and glory.

8.  “Genesee Passage”  by Albert Paley.   At  front of Bausch & Lomb
 Dated:  1996 
 "Genesee Passage is Albert Paley's largest sculpture to date. It is composed of abstract forms symbolizing the growth of Bausch & Lomb as a major international corporation along the banks of the Genesee River."