“Public art isn’t for wimps.”
So said Akron Art Museum Director Mark Masuoka as he watched a 54-inch, 150-pound red marine buoy being hoisted to the roof of the building, high above East Market Street.
Three of the buoys have been suspended by thick cables from the cantilevers that reach out from the museum’s roof, about 20 feet in the air.
The temporary installation was designed by New York artist Tony Feher and will remain in place while a show featuring more than 50 of his works is on view at the museum, Saturday through Aug. 17.
On Wednesday, people on the streets downtown paused to watch Buoy being installed, requiring a crane and some lane closures on East Market Street.
Masuoka looked up with a hopeful smile. “When we drop that buoy over Market Street today, it will draw a lot of attention to the museum over the next three to four months. This is part of our action plan for capturing people’s imagination, and I think Tony’s work provides the perfect vehicle for capturing that community engagement.”
Watching as the work crews got the cantilevers prepped, Masuoka’s smile grew ever more enthusiastic.
“We also have another project opening up over the summer. This is a part of the many projects being lined up by the museum to engage the people.”
He gestured to the buoy: “It’s kind of poetic, actually. It’s so simple. I love the scale — it’s not overbearing, but it adds just enough of this element and the color that it’s like … just wow.
“I think that’s Tony’s intent, and I think it’s something that the museum is well-invested in the whole proposition. It’s not static. It’s a very dynamic piece of public art.”
He chuckled. “It has gravity. It’s Tony’s genius to use what’s existing, then take something special out of it. He used our new building. It’s a supporting mechanism at this point, but what better use of the building?”
Two attorneys from Brennan, Manna & Diamond, the firm housed across the street in what used to be the Akron Art Institute, were asked to take a look as they passed by on the way to lunch. One looked over his shoulder briefly and laughed, “Oh, that.” The other stopped and took it in: “It’s pretty cool, actually.”
“It reminds me of a bouncing ball like the kids use, or a wrecking ball,” said Diana Jacobs, who works up the street at Summa.
“Looks kind of like a fishing bob,” said another passerby.
“Reminds me of a Target ball,” said Angela Stewart, who works at the Haven of Rest.
Jeana Singleton, who also works at Brennan, Manna & Diamond, wrote down a small essay in favor of the project. Among her thoughts: “The arts are an integral part of our culture. Putting the new exhibit outside allows greater community engagement in our arts activities.”
Her colleague Victoria Serrani echoed her sentiments: “I am so happy I got to witness the unveiling of this new exhibit. I love that it gives the illusion that I have an oceanfront office.”
And from the same firm, Michael Morley offered a judicious observation: “I just hope they fasten it securely — I’d hate to have it land on someone’s car.”
Buoy demonstrates how Feher uses everyday objects to bring attention to aesthetic connections in utilitarian and commonplace items, and how he looks at conventional things in a new light. By suspending the buoys upside down, Feher subverts their intended function and gives viewers a sense of wonderment and heightened awareness.
And that’s not all he’s done. Feher has also transformed one of the museum’s public passageways into a glowing hallway by embellishing its window wall with patterns created using blue painter’s tape.
The arcs of hand-torn tape mimic European paving stone patterns or the luminous mosaic ceilings of Byzantine basilicas. The effect is that of medieval stained-glass windows. Feher sees the contrast of patterns and textures as revealing both the “ridiculous and sublime in the same breath.”
This work, specific to Akron, has been named Judith Resnik, in honor of the Akron-raised NASA astronaut who died on board the Challenger space shuttle in 1986.
Buoy and Judith Resnik were commissioned by the Akron Art Museum; Buoy is supported by anonymous donors.
As the buoy was being installed Wednesday, Masuoka nodded in the direction of traffic dodging the multitude of orange cones. “What’s popular in business right now is this concept of disruption. For us, sometimes the best way to get people to start paying attention is a physical manifestation of disruption.
“At some point you have to make people pay attention to what’s actually possible and to embrace the challenges in this case: it’s engineering, it’s logistics, it’s politics, it’s bureaucracies. You just have to keep pushing on.”
Dorothy Shinn writes about art and architecture for the Akron Beacon Journal. Send information to her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640 or firstname.lastname@example.org.