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'Safety Cones' and Sculpture in Milwaukee's Downtown

Jun. 20, 2017
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Orange construction cones are a part of summer. Now they are even more so in a new display of sculpture along Wisconsin Avenue. Dennis Oppenheim’s surprising and humorous Safety Cones loom large along the Riverwalk intersection at Water Street. A playful pair of monumental orange cones lines the walkway, decorated with polka-dot shapes that greet people enjoying a stroll but without impeding their progress. It is a kind reminder of how alternate forms of transportation are often not vulnerable to the perils of roadway construction and associated impediments.

This is one of the 22 sculptures recently installed, and one with a sense of whimsy. Sometimes that takes a more obvious effect, like the red roses of Will Ryman’s Rose #2 (Icon Red), a voluptuous bouquet with dangerous thorns. Tony Tasset’s Mood Sculpture is like a stack of emojis, with candy-colored balls registering different facial expressions. One can’t help but think that for Downtown passersby, it is something to wryly smile at, registering expressions that best suit their current moods.

Some of the works are purely abstract, intended for suggestions like the spiraling bronze tornado of Tony Cragg’s Mixed Feelings. While there are internationally recognized names like Deborah Butterfield and Sol LeWitt, there are also locally based artists with international reputations, including Paul Druecke, Jason Yi and Michelle Grabner.

The project has an impressive pedigree. Former Milwaukee Art Museum Director Russell Bowman curated the series, “Sculpture Milwaukee”; its implementation was the brainchild of businessman Steve Marcus. This project is sadly slated to last only until October. The “Sculpture Milwaukee” website promotes the installation of these artworks as aligning Milwaukee with such cities as Paris, Chicago and New York for their attentiveness to public aesthetics. While the streets of this city have a definitive life in the summer months—given our taste for festivals of all sorts and street-side dining—the idea of having contemporary art on a major thoroughfare enhances the character of Milwaukee as a cosmopolitan city. It is a summer visitor but would be welcome as a permanent resident.

“Sculpture Milwaukee” will be on display through October along Wisconsin Avenue from Sixth Street to O’Donnell Park. To learn more, visit sculpturemilwaukee.com.

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