Saturday, December 18, 2004

Sculpture Story #2

Mosquito University

This is another sculpture story about my hometown, an old story, long ago resolved, but it occurs to me to mention it now, following yesterday’s “lost sculpture” story.

At one time, the University where I used to work had obtained one of the legitimate copies of a Charles Umlauf statue of Icarus. I have now variously heard it called “Icarus Falling”, “Falling Icarus”, “Flight of Icarus”, and one or two more. Maybe it’s simpler just to call it Icarus in this story.

The Myth of Icarus

You probably know the old Greek myth, but here's a reminder: His father Daedalus attached a pair of wings to each of them with wax so that they could fly away and escape Crete. Icarus was warned not to fly too close to the sun, but he was having too much fun and did. The wax melted. Splash. Icarus drowned. Instant cult figure, represented in bronze, paintings, and poems ever since.

Icarus As Valuable Property

Though the sculpture was a gift to the University about twenty years prior, I had heard that a purchase price of about $1500 was paid for it. It was neither the work of an amateur art student, nor an inferior work by some artist who was never heard of again. It was created by Charles Umlauf, a successful sculptor and art professor at the University of Texas at Austin, whose career in Texas spanned decades and included a long list of sculptural works that ornament universities, churches, institutions, and private homes all over the country, particularly Texas and the Southwest. Whatever price was originally paid for Icarus, I would assume that, like most works by recognized artists, it's value has gone up rather than down over the decades.

Art Work Sent To Siberia

So, one day I found it hastily and carelessly stored in the Physical Plant compound. This was at least the second time in a ten year period that this sculpture had been inexplicably "sent to Siberia" for an extended period. I knew this because it had been carelessly stored both times in the same place while I was there. So this time I got on my high horse and started pestering people about the hazards of it lying around the Physical Plant open storage sheds with the other "junk". I submitted to them that the Icarus sculpture was worth better treatment than it was getting and that it ought to be restored to conspicuous display rather than hidden away among rusty tractor implements and trash.

Bad Handling And Disregard

If it were in the way, tractors would often move the pallet on which it rested with a good shove. Icarus itself was uncovered and had no protective wrapping, its storage place changing willy-nilly as one person after another found it to be in their way. I considered that a horrible way to keep it! It was designed to be out in the weather, of course, but it wasn’t impervious to bumps from tractors and mowers or to exposure to chemicals.

What, Me Worry?

I talked to the Art department, even to one of the men who had been on the committee that had chosen it years previously, but nobody could get very excited about it any more. The people who wanted it on display again wanted it in a particular place and the people who would have to do the work to erect the pedestal and attach it would not do so until certain renovations and landscaping were complete so that the work wouldn’t have to be done twice. No one in this whole college community could work out a compromise on this! I talked to the Physical Plant director, who agreed to talk to the Art Department, and they did talk, but for some months more nothing was done.

Call IBM and ENIAC!

It overwhelmed the combined intelligence of a large university art department with all its creative people and a vast physical plant department armed with engineers, planners, draftsmen, mechanics, welders, and carpenters. No one could or would move their dawdling dopey-headed diddled ass in the direction of either getting it on Display or getting it Stored Properly! Why the hell not?! Although I had for a long time jokingly referred to this former swampland next to the chemical plants as Mosquito University, apparently a more apt name would have been MaƱana University! Aaagh! Nothing ever got done around here!

Movable Objects, Resistable Forces,
And Strange Sanitation

Bureaucracy had worn them all down and nobody could stand to try to hurry it up any more. I didn't mind that they were so willing to just wait patiently about mounting it for display again; I just had no toleration about them storing it in the Physical Plant's outdoor piles of crap, among cast-off lumber, jagged sheet metal, pails of roofing tar, and rusted mowers and tractors! Egads, some people would wipe their ass with the Mona Lisa. Don't be so sure that I exaggerate; I often heard the good ole boys laughing it up about the "angel's dick" because that was the most interesting thing about it to them, that it’s dang dick was exposed! Icarus is most often represented naked, you know. Well, you may know, but they didn’t. I’m surprised somebody didn’t go beat on it with a hammer and take that bronze penis home in their pocket for a joke. This is a very coarse society I live in here, I’ve known it since I was ten or twelve. It probably explains my own inability to refrain from vitriolic vulgar language even now, most of which I aim toward this coarse society around here!

Thank You, Thank you!
Eventually that year, the sculpture was at least moved on its pallet into a corner storage area that was out of harm’s way. It was less in the midst of the chaotic junk storage and wrapped protectively with old blankets. Whether my complaints had anything to do with it, I can only guess. As far as I remember, nobody thanked me for my interest. The next year it was mounted on a new pedestal and base in front of a newly completed building. I assure you I take no credit for the new building.

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