JULY IS A MOMENTOUS month for Minneapolis-based artist Siah Armajani, who's unveiling two public works in two very different settings. On July 19, all eyes turn to Atlanta for the opening ceremonies of the Centennial Olympic Games, and to the Olympic Cauldron designed for the event by Armajani. As the first visual artist to be awarded this prestigious commission, Armajani has created an appropriately singular design that includes a 190-foot bridge extending from the Olympic Stadium to a 13-story tower, topped by the spiral-shaped cauldron. Be sure to tune in along with the rest of the world.
Back in Minnesota and far from the international press, Armajani will dedicate a public park in downtown Wayzata on July 29; it's but one of several works by the artist gracing the metropolitan area. For those intrigued by the Olympic Bridge, Tower, and Cauldron, what follows is a guide to Siah Armajani's local works, some well known, and others waiting to be discovered.
Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge, 1988 (Walker Art Center, Minneapolis): Nary a soul is oblivious to this graceful bridge connecting The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Loring Park. Yet how many can say they've set foot on it in the past few years? Park the car and experience it for what it is--a pedestrian bridge. Take a leisurely stroll over umpteen lanes of traffic, and be sure to turn your gaze away from life speeding all around to a poem by John Ashbery mounted on the bridge's upper beams.
Gazebo for the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge, 1993 (Loring Park, Minneapolis): Once across the bridge, you'll find Armajani's complimentary gazebo nestled near the lake in Loring Park. Take a rest on interior and exterior seats, and enjoy the scenery as well as the intricate structure of the gazebo, which features passages from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets.
Covered Walkway, 1990 (General Mills, Inc., Golden Valley): Near the intersection of Highways 394 and 169, the corporate headquarters of General Mills boasts an expansive outdoor sculpture garden that's open to the public weekdays during business hours. A series of paths meanders among 16 sculptures by prominent U.S. artists, including Armajani's ingenious (and practical) covered walkway. Created from industrial materials both inside and out, the walkway jogs in lateral directions, offering several exits and entrances and a delightful sitting area that overlooks the grounds. Take a lunch, bring a friend.
Skybridge, 1988 (downtown Minneapolis): The result of Armajani's collaboration with Cesar Pelli and Associates, architects of the Norwest Center, this skybridge/skyway joins the Center on Sixth Street to its neighbor across Marquette Avenue. As you rush from lunch to work, slow down and notice how this skybridge is a step above the others: Entry and exit ramps lead to a sheltered central square, featuring street-side windows of amber-colored glass that blur the traffic below and the sky above, while clear center panes connect pedestrians with the world outside.
Humphrey Garden, 1987 (University of Minnesota, Minneapolis campus): This garden graces the entry to the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and was commissioned to serve as a memorial to the man and his words. Regretfully, the University has allowed the garden to degenerate to such a degree as to disgrace both Humphrey and Armajani. Quotes from Humphrey built into the garden walls have been shattered in places, or removed, and graffiti on a metal screen has been sloppily covered with green paint. A forgotten sign in the garden's center reveals that its restoration is a full year behind schedule.
Post Office Pocket Park, 1996 (Wayzata): Just how royally the U of M screwed up is made apparent in this newly completed jewel of a park. The site is entered through a striking two-story pavilion, with a cut-out window framing the park beyond. Colorful flower beds blend into a fern garden alongside a meandering wooden-plank path and several benches designed by the artist; a low steel wall surrounding the park playfully gives the right of way to trees and fence posts. On an adjacent building is mounted a passage from Wallace Stevens's "Evening with Angels"--high-relief, gold-lettered words that seem to describe specifically this peaceful suburban setting. Armajani's ordering of nature ceases at the park's dramatic, two-story rear gate, which faces a small, mowed field and a native stand of trees.
If you can't make it to Atlanta, consider attending a dedication ceremony for the park on July 29 at 4 p.m. (Urbanites can find Post Office Pocket Park by heading west on Highway 394 to the downtown Wayzata exit. Drive west on Wayzata Blvd. to Minnetonka St. and turn left; the park is a few blocks ahead, across from the Wayzata Post Office.)