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Arts & Culture

A Guide To Art On The Skyways

September 12, 2011 8:00 AM

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(credit: Coco Mault)

(credit: Coco Mault)

By Coco Mault

It’s true that Minnesota has a reputation for being a perfect place to explore the great outdoors, but only to a point. Sub-zero degree windchills in the winter and overbearing heat and humidity in the summer tend to make many locals second-guess living here. Heck, even the transition from winter to summer makes for a pretty moody springtime. There is a place in Minnesota where the environment is temperate all year long, though, and there is enough art on the walls to keep anyone occupied for just about as long, too. The following are some of our favorite artworks on display within Minneapolis’ skyway system.

skyway lorenmadsen A Guide To Art On The Skyways

(credit: Coco Mault)

Hanging Stones by Loren Madsen

Located in the US Bank Building located at 220 South Sixth Street.

The US Bank Building, originally named The Pillsbury Center, was built in 1981. It is actually two skyscrapers towers — one 21 stories tall and one 40 stories tall — connected by a large atrium lit naturally thanks to a dramatic glass ceiling.

Hanging down into this large open area is a giant V-shaped sculpture named Hanging Stones, that mimics the design of the central area’s diagonal glass ceiling. At first it seems that artist Loren Madsen has perhaps carved a single piece of black granite. In fact, it is 276 separate pieces, individually suspended by cables from above.

There are four large picture frames near the bank of elevators that tell about the artist as well as his sculpture, and it’s an amazing sculpture for sure. Especially considering how complicated it must have been to install.

skyway sollewitt A Guide To Art On The Skyways

(credit: Coco Mault)

Wall Drawing #473 by Sol LeWitt

Located in the Oracle Center at 900 Second Avenue South

LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #473 color ink wash can be found on skyway level in the shared lobby of the Oracle Center and the International Center. The modern-esque central lobby is primarily shiny and white, but there are splashes of color — none of which match LeWitt’s massive geometric mural.

Rather than executing his plans on canvass himself, LeWitt would sometimes create his art by writing down directions, like recipes for art, for his assistants to then construct. Sometimes painting the work directly onto walls, rather than onto canvass, as well, This seems to be the case in this Minneapolis lobby. His point being that his artwork is temporary and would eventually be painted over. Hopefully that isn’t the intention here.

skyway dalechihuly A Guide To Art On The Skyways

(credit: Coco Mault)

Macchia Forms by Dale Chihuly
Fresnel Wing by James Carpenter

Located at Capella Tower, 225 South Sixth Street

A treasure trove of art can be found at Capella Tower, also known as 225 South Sixth, in downtown Minneapolis. Many people have noted this building’s curved roof 776 ft up — a 45 foot tall semi-circular structure which looks more like stadium seating rather than what it actually is: a screen for cooling towers and antennae.

As it turns out, there appears to be a similar structure hanging from the ceiling on skyway level, and it’s quite impressive. The building was completed in 1992 and the sculpture followed shortly in 1993. Artist James Carpenter constructed the sculpture, entitled Fresnel Wing, out of aluminum, stainless steel, and glass. Unlike its rooftop counterpart, each glass panel ranges in hues of pastel yellow to pink. The color comes from the lights aimed at the panels, but the color is diffused by a special coating on the panels themselves. There are pamphlets about the sculpture on the security desk nearby. From the pamphlet: “The sculpture’s fifty-six panes of glass have treated dichroic surfaces which split the color spectrum, reflecting the red half and transmitting the blue.”

In addition to Fresnel Wing, there are five bowls on display by famed glass artisan Dale Chihuly which, at first glance, look to be a display of sea creatures below Carpenter’s sculpture. The series of bowls, entitled Macchia Forms, are encased in their own individual lighted, cylindrical aquarium-like case (by Willie Willette Works of Minneapolis). Each bowl is roughly the same size, about one to two feet deep, but the vibrant colors vary considerably — green and pink, purple and blue, and all a little alien-looking like sea anemones. From the pamphlet:

“…Objets de Verre, ‘grand vessels turning into life.’ The display features a variety of vessels that appear vital, not organic, and whose primary role is to communicate their own beauty and significance…”

skyway myklebustsearsfountain A Guide To Art On The Skyways

(credit: Coco Mault)

Fountain by Andrea Myklebust and Stanton Sears

Located in the Hennepin County Government Center, 300 South 6th Street

It’s interesting to find that 10,000 people visit the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis every day. That’s a pretty large audience for their central piece of art: a large reflecting pool and fountain designed by local artists Andrea Myklebust and Stanton Sears. Water smoothly arches out of what looks to be a cannon at first glance. Looking closer, however, it is easy to the sculpture is actually mill machinery elements. Minneapolis was built on the milling industry, after all, and according to center’s website, the fountainheads are bronze and “incorporate elements drawn from hydroelectric turbines, saw blades, gear mills and other industrial imagery related to the historic and contemporary use of the county’s waterways, resting on a platform of water-jet-cut black granite.” This brings to mind St. Anthony Falls and the old flour mills just a few blocks away. The fountainheads were cast at Macalester College.

There were a few goals they had in mind when creating this fountain, one of which is as follows: “Create a fountain that [will] perform reliably over a long period of time, with reasonable routine maintenance.”

Why make such a clause in the plans? It seems reasonable in any project, of course, but when learning the history of this fountain, it seems especially important.

Until 1999, this fountain has been a sort of a work in progress and a nuisance. The Hennepin County Government Center was completed in 1974. Water pipes to facilitate a fountain were built in, but no fountain art was ever found or decided on. Instead of having exposed fountain pipes as a central focal point (not to mention those imposing vertical windows with views to the courthouse across the street), someone or some committee decided to pile bricks around the water pipe. Supposedly the bricks were arranged in a pyramid.

After spilling through those temporary bricks, the water collected in a pool, which stopped working in 1999. The price tag on fixing this broken pool was about $100,000, or they could build something new and a little more meaningful for a bit more money. From a pdf on the government center’s website, “In the words of one board member, it was a chance to beautify ‘one of the great crossroads of Downtown.'”

People are encouraged to toss coins into the reflecting pool — the money is collected and donated to a different charity each month. The month’s charity is posted on the base of the pool, to the left of the plaque.

skyway randtowerfloor A Guide To Art On The Skyways

(credit: Coco Mault)

Rand Tower Floor

The Rand Tower was completed in 1929 and is a lovely example of the ornate Deco style of the time. World War I aviator Rufus R. Rand, Jr. designed this 27-floor building. He must have loved flying, as his building has as a prominent aviation theme inside and out.

According to the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame‘s website, Rand had a prestigious career in the world of aviation. He joined the Lafayette Flying Corps in World War I and in 1929 he invested in the Mohawk Aircraft Company. When the company went bankrupt in 1931, Rand paid the bills by selling the last few aircraft he owned that were built by the company. He was associated with the Universal Air Lines Corporation, a State Commander of the American Legion, and an officer of the Minneapolis Gas Company, of which his family owned. He returned to service in World War II as an Executive Officer and was one of the twelve founders of the Air Force Association.

Be sure to look down while walking through this part of the skyway because there is a pleasant surprise underfoot. In keeping with the flying theme, there are silver moons and stars dotted all along the floor.

Check back next month as we feature more art on the skyways.

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