Send your question to AskOMC@staff.onmilwaukee.com. If you include your name and city, we'll consider it for our next installment. Our question this time comes from Dave in Milwaukee, who asks:
Q: Why hasn't the city torn down (or at least moved) the orange sunburst statue that blocks the view of the Art Museum?
A: If you’re looking to start a public debate about public art, this one can’t miss.
The statue to which Dave refers is entitled "The Calling," by abstract impressionist sculptor Mark di Suvero. But, a lot of folks we know refer it to by other names, such as "The Sunburst," and "That ugly orange thing at the end of Wisconsin Avenue."
Di Suvero, who was born in 1933, often works with industrial I-beams, which he welds and bolts together. "The Calling" was installed in its current location at the east end of Milwaukee’s main drag in 1982. The cost at the time was reportedly in the neighborhood of $150,000, which made many frugal residents squawk with anger. Others complained because they simply didn’t like the look.
A quarter-century ago, the bright orange sculpture was set against a grassy patch, the blue sky and Lake Michigan. Today, the site has been changed by the addition of O’Donnell Park and Santiago Calatrava’s celebrated addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum.
While some viewers like the contrast between di Suvero’s angular work and Calatrava’s Burke Brise Soleil, others loathe the fact that the view of sunshade is obscured from the street. (Get out of your car and walk a few feet, supporters scream).
When the Calatrava opened in 2001, there was a loud cry for di Suvero’s work to be moved. That led to debate about di Suvero’s intention. Some said that he sited the piece specifically for its position over the lake. Others claimed that di Suvero’s sculpture was completed before a site was chosen and that city officials planned to place it in front of the Reuss Federal Building at 3rd and Wisconsin, where the orange would have played nicely off the blue building.
A lot of people wrote letters to the editor or called their favorite talk-show host and spewed a lot of venom about the issue, but eventually people came to the realization that "The Calling" wasn’t going to move any time soon.
It still isn't.
For starters, the statue is owned by the Milwaukee Art Museum. Officials there tried to invite di Suvero to the Lakefront to see the new development and consider a relocation, but he declined their overtures. Calatrava, who knew of "The Calling" before drawing up the plans for his addition, diplomatically deferred to di Suvero.
Five years later, the orange sculpture remains in place. Some are pleased by the location. Others are exasperated. The debate arises periodically and it’s always a zesty one.
When you think about it, isn’t that what public art is supposed to do?
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.