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In praise of "E Pluribus Unum"

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Fred Wilson's "E Pluribus Unum," the proposed — and controversial — public sculpture that would be installed at the corner of the plaza in front of the City-County Building has drawn praise from arts journalist Tyler Green on his ARTINFO.com blog Modern Arts Notes.

Green ranked Wilson's proposed piece at Number 8 in his Modern Art Notes 2010 top ten list. Green wrote: "The most thoughtful work of public art proposed in years, Wilson's sculpture kicked off a city-wide conversation from which art and artists too often shy away. Wilson's engagement with the residents of Indianapolis should be a model for other artists."

Let's hope Green's assessment of the public process that, if anything, seemed to overtake Wilson and the Cultural Trail planners who commissioned the work last year, proves to be as salutary as this pick would indicate. At the moment we're still awaiting the outcome of further public meetings that have yet to take place regarding the piece.

What we know so far is that most people — including those who attended a raucous public meeting at the Walker Theatre last October — when asked about the piece seem to think it's all right. A comparatively small but highly vocal group has problems with it.

At this point, it seems unlikely that Wilson's work can be stopped altogether. What may be at stake, though, is whether or not the intensity of a few raised voices will be sufficient to force a reconsideration of the site, causing the piece to be located somewhere other than the City-County plaza.

This would be a great loss for the city. The presence of a strong and historically resonant African-American image in front of our city hall would have been unthinkable in a city that was dominated by the Ku Klux Klan less than 100 years ago. Wilson's imagery derives an important resonance from this fact; its transformative power will be compromised in another location.

The continuing public "conversation" regarding "E Pluribus Unum" should be, as Green suggests, the mark of a thoughtful process of engagement leading to the successful installation of a work that has the potential to be a city icon in years to come. But Indianapolis policy-makers are known for risk aversion, especially when it comes to the arts. In the coming months we'll learn whether we've finally adopted the courage of our convictions when it comes to public art.

Thanks to Julia Moore for tipping me to Tyler Green's MAN's 2010 top ten list.

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