Here’s a shot of the floral installation by Jan Brown Checco that currently graces Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati. It’s only up for a few weeks, so get thee downtown to see it in person. I have some mixed thoughts on this project but, bear with me, I do actually like it.
My photo shows the installation at ground level. Click here for an awesome bird’s eye view from the top of Carew Tower, and here for Sara Pierce’s photos from different vantage points, along with more information and comments, including a statement from the artist. The plantings form a giant butterfly, but you can’t see that when you’re standing in Fountain Square. Instead, you see a slightly raised flower bed with groups of pansies in different colors. The effect is exuberant and definitely spruces up the dark grey tones of the square.
What bothers me about the installation is that I know it’s a picture of a butterfly, yet seeing the butterfly proves elusive. You can go up into the Westin or, for $1, to the top of Carew Tower, for a better view, and I wish there were didactics or better yet, treasure hunt-type maps, explaining the routes to the different vantage points [and also hours and any other stipulations]. It’s okay to have to work to understand art, but I wonder how many people know where to go for a better view [or would go through the trouble, but that’s a different problem]. The neighboring buildings certainly don’t seem to invite the public in; even the atrium in the Westin feels private although it’s a public space. In terms of the visual payoff, this installation seems to mostly benefit the employees of the surrounding buildings and area hotel guests.
Another issue is that parts of the pattern are mulch paths. But, the whole installation is raised and edged with bricks, suggesting against walking through it. There is a didactic explaining that you can, but I haven’t yet seen anyone do it. The way to really invite strollers through the installation would be to use the existing pavement for the paths, which was perhaps impractical for this project.
I’m no horticulture expert, but I wish the plants were chosen specifically to attract butterflies [which may not be feasible or even possible]. Butterflies on the ground could echo the larger butterfly seen from above. How meta!
Jan Brown Checco used the word “pointillist” when describing her installation; I actually think anamorphosis may be a more accurate description. That is, in order to see the butterfly, you need a somewhat specific [and high] vantage point.
I know I’m kind of nitpicking, but that’s only because I care about public art, and I want it to be relevant and enjoyable to the public. It seems that people are definitely enjoying the fact that the plantings are on the square, even if they don’t realize that the design is representational. But, I think there are ways to encourage more people to have more “Aha!” moments when interacting with this piece, which would only heighten the appeal of the work.