Posts Tagged ‘public art’

"This is How We Live"

“This is How We Live”

Public art is fairly commonplace in many parts of D.C., and as I have been able to see during my bike rides, it has become even more prevalent over the past few years. One of the contributors to this increase is muralist Garin Baker, who has a number of pieces of public art throughout the city. On this ride my destination was one of his murals, one entitled “This is How We Live.” It is located adjacent to a playground, on the side of a building at 239 Elm Street (MAP), near the corner at 3rd street in northwest D.C. And it is not only located in the LeDroit Park neighborhood, it captures the neighborhood as the subject of the mural.

Mr. Baker currently runs a small public art company called Carriage House Arts Studios, which is responsible for countless public and private large scale mural projects across the country, including in New York and Atlanta, as well as D.C. In fact, Mr. Baker recently completed two murals located at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in northeast D.C.’s Brookland neighborhood, which I hope to ride to and see one day soon.

The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, in collaboration with residents from the LeDroit Park community, commissioned Mr. Baker to design, create and install ”This is How We Live,” a photo-realistic mural, which was done in the tradition of the depression-era muralists hired by the Works Progress Administration as part of the President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Plan, which employed millions of mostly unskilled, unemployed people to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads.

As one of the city’s first suburbs, LeDroit Park was developed and marketed as a “romantic” neighborhood, with numerous flowerbeds and extensive landscaping to include narrow tree-lined streets. The developers even named the streets after the trees that shaded them, differing from the street names used in the rest of the city. Originally a whites-only neighborhood, it was through the efforts by many, especially actions by students from neighboring Howard University, which led to the integration of the area. By the 1940s LeDroit Park became a major focal point for the African-American elite, with many prominent figures residing there. Today, LeDroit Park residents represent a wide variety of ethnic groups, and it’s that diversity that entices new residents to the community.

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"My Culture, Mi Gente"

“My Culture, Mi Gente”

While on this bike ride in northwest D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, I discovered a mural entitled “My Culture, Mi Gente.”  But as I later discovered when I was trying to find out more about what I had seen, it is more than just a mural.  And the man who created it is more than just an artist.

“My Culture, Mi Gente” is located at 3064 15th Street (MAP), across the street from the Columbia Heights Metro Station, in northwest D.C.  Funded by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the colorful mural celebrates the neighborhood’s rich diversity and culture, and was created by artists from the Latin American Youth Center’s Art+Media House, including Jamilla Okubo, Daphne Zecena, Janie Velasquez, and Gean C. Martinez, along with lead artist Joel Bergner.

Also known as Joel Artista, Joel Bergner is a social action muralist and street artist, as well as a youth and community art organizer who through art projects seeks to educate others on issues of culture and social justice by creating works that relate stories of those who have been ignored or misunderstood by society.

In addition to “My Culture, Mi Gente,” Joel Berger has also created large public murals in many other U.S. cities, as well in Brazil, the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, Cuba, Kenya, Mozambique, Poland, Cape Verde in West Africa, El Salvador, and Peru. And much like his collaboration with the Latin American Youth Center here in D.C., his other works often feature collaborations with other youth-based organizations which represent incarcerated teenagers, Syrian refugees, youth from marginalized communities, the mentally and physically disabled, and street children in Rio de Janeiro. He has been commissioned by and worked with human rights groups as well, including the International Rescue Committee, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, the Boys & Girls Club, UNICEF and Amnesty International.

I also found out that he has created other murals and other public art works here in D.C. So I hope to visit them on some of my future bike rides, and continue to learn more about the social awareness and action which they inspire.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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Sol LeWitt’s “Four-Sided Pyramid”

The definition of public art is art in any media that has been planned and executed with the intention of being staged in the physical public domain, usually outside and accessible to all.  The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, which exhibits several pieces from the museum’s contemporary sculpture collection in an outdoor setting, is an excellent example of public art. Located on the National Mall between the National Gallery’s West Building and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History (MAP), the Sculpture Garden, and more specifically an exhibit there entitled “Four Sided Pyramid,” was the destination for this ride.

Four-Sided Pyramid consists of concrete blocks precisely stacked to form a stark, eye-catching terraced pyramid. In bright sunlight, the white blocks and shadows play visual tricks on the eye as you view the structure from different angles. From some angles the exhibit can appear to be a simple pile of cubes. But from other angles, the contrasting white blocks and dark shadows can also create a isometric optical illusion, where it isn’t clear whether a given vertex is an inside or outside corner. It was installed at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in 1999 by a team of engineers and stone masons, according to a plan designed by the artist, whose approach was to come up with a concept for each structure often presented as a set of instructions which assistants then used to construct the object.

Four Sided Pyramid was designed by an American artist named Solomon “Sol” LeWitt. He came to fame in the late 1960s with his wall drawings and modular, quasi-architectural forms he called “structures,” a term he preferred instead of “sculptures.” LeWitt was prolific in a wide range of media including drawing, printmaking, photography, and painting, and was from the early 1960s until his death in 2007 he was considered at the forefront of various movements, including Conceptual Art and Minimalism, of which he is regarded as the founder.

LeWitt has been the subject of hundreds of solo exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world for almost half a century. And his works continue to be represented here in the Sculpture Garden, as well as important museum collections throughout the world, including the Tate Modern Museum in London, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Australian National Gallery in Canberra, the National Museum of Serbia in Belgrade, and the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.