How much art can you get for half a million dollars? When the venerable street gets its 21st-century makeover, $500,000 will be spent on a "signature" piece of art. Let's cut right to the expected reactions.
The perpetually aggravated Internet commenter: Oh great another boondoggle they think will stop the city from goin' down the tubes!!! Seriously? Taxes go up and up and theres a street sign in my neighborhood that has been leaning at a 30 degree angle for MONTHS and no one does anything. Maybe that's art now LOL
The career politician: I regard this as a great opportunity to give Minneapolis a world-class, iconic, place-defining piece of destination art that will make people reject Paris as a destination and come here to stand in front of some stacked rocks and look at the plaque that has my name on it.
The artist: As someone who's been exploring the historical relationships between mass-produced materials like cardboard and drywall, using them to explore the way we see ourselves and the world, can you tell me how the heck I can get a piece of this?
I hope it's a pleasure to behold. If it's a big abstract pile of steel with a name like "Tetanus #7," no one will like it except for people who find raw poetry in the unmediated use of industrial materials, and are also the artist's girlfriend. If I may make a few suggestions to avoid tendentious ugliness:
A giant fork with a blueberry on the end. This would echo the much-beloved "Spoonbridge and Cherry," and make subsequent decisions on public art much easier. A huge knife cutting through a 10-foot-tall pat of butter, for example, would be a natural addition, as would a 75-foot handle for a gravy ladle sticking out of Lake Harriet.
After a while they'd be down to pickle forks and sugar tongs, but we would be the only city whose public art consisted of a complete set of cutlery.
Obviously, the days of putting civic figures on horses on a pedestal have passed, but: Hubert Humphrey poppin' a wheelie on a Harley would be awesome.
Across the street from the Mary Tyler Moore statue, a statue of the woman who was glaring with disapproval as Mary threw the hat. Mary's exuberant gesture expressed the heedless joys of youth; you need some scowling sourpuss staring at the image of bygone joy and thinking, "Well, that's different."
A human pyramid made up of 19th-century mayors, cast in bronze.
A statue of F. Scott Fitzgerald, if only for the fun of making heads explode in St. Paul.
An enormous loon that calls out the hours with a high-decibel warble that reminds you of the lure of the lake, the simple pleasures of the evening Up North.
On the first Wednesday of the month it would utter the tornado siren, making first-time visitors conclude that this city was populated by utter lunatics.
A statue of one of those street performers who pretends to be a statue.
A small convenience store that behaves just like a real business, but the cashiers are all actors. To ensure that it's art, all security camera feeds will be piped to the Walker, where they will be used in a "performance art / installation" that raises issues about commerce and interpersonal relations.
Whatever they decide, it'll just be … there. A thing. An object. Something that appears in a tourist video for two seconds. On the day it's unveiled, a reporter will grill the onlookers: "Say there, sir, what did you think of the Nicollet Mall's iconic new sculpture?"
"Well, it was definitely an immersive experience, which is something I look for in art, and also bathtubs. I was fascinated by the way the walls carve a private space out of the public realm, but also how their transparency made the space seem connected to the street. Now and then, a great whooshing noise made me think about the passage of time, about how the street outside was really an invitation to travel anywhere in this great wide world."
"Uh — I think you're talking about the bus stop. I mean this art, over here."
"That? The rocks piled on other rocks? I thought that was construction debris. Oh, well, if it's art … I have to say the tension between the negative spaces and the implication of gravity brings a certain OWW! You kicked me! You kicked me in the shin!"
OK, I'm sorry I kicked the hypothetical poseur in the shin. But I do not apologize for making a truly serious suggestion. For years I have argued for a giant Pillsbury Doughboy statue, because he would make people smile. He may be a giggling shill for mass-produced prefabricated bakery products, but he's our giggling shill.
It would be fine if a 10-story Doughboy strode the mall like an ancient Colossus, but even better: Make him human-sized, make his arms and legs swing back and forth, and mount him on a rail that travels the length of the Nicollet Mall.
There is no city in the world that has a happy dough-bodied creature walking up and down the street.
Of course he would pause for the DON'T WALK light, and of course people would poke him to see if he laughed.
I want this to happen, and while I will take no money for the idea, I want to christen his first stroll by smacking a roll of Grands biscuits across his noggin.
I DUB THEE ART. Now get out there and be iconic.