Photographing public art my photos, my words

I admit that I’m a junky for public art, the interesting and often odd sculptures found in public spaces or in front of buildings in major cities. These sculptures always grab my attention and are the subject of my featured gallery for January.

As a photographer, I like to find viewing angles that illustrate how the sculptures interact with the cities that surround them. Some don’t fit in at all, at least from a photo composition viewpoint. But others integrate so perfectly that it’s difficult to imagine the location without the sculpture.

Those are the ones that are fun to photograph.

My three favorite public sculptures to photograph — and three that blend well with their surroundings — are Cubed Curve in New York, Cloud Gate in Chicago and Cupid’s Span in San Francisco.

Cubed Curve, New York City

Until recently, Cubed Curve sat outside the Time-Life Building on the corner of Sixth Avenue and West 50th Street in New York City. The sculpture, by New York-born artist William Crovello, was commissioned by the Association for a Better New York and installed in 1972.

The blue metal Curbed Curve is appropriately named. It’s a giant curve (think of the horseshoe-shaped magnets we had as kids) that has had its “legs” bent into additional curves so the entire object forms a cube.

The sculpture looks different from various positions around the cube and the flow of curves in the sculpture provides interesting angles to photograph. Add the tall buildings that surround it (the Time-Life Building beside the sculpture, the McGraw-Hill Building and News Corporation Building in the next block to the south, Radio City Music Hall across Sixth Avenue) and a blue sky above and a photographer is presented with almost unlimited compositional opportunities.

But Cubed Curve is now gone, I hope just temporarily. The Rockefeller Group, owner of the Time-Life Building, is renovating the building. The renovation includes redesigning the plaza facing Sixth Avenue and creating a new landscaping feature and fountain. The landscaping feature will extend atop the subway entrance on the corner of Sixth Avenue and West 50th Street where the Cubed Curve sat, so it has been removed. It’s unclear what the Rockefeller Group’s plans mean for the sculpture.

Cloud Gate, Chicago

The Cloud Gate sculpture, installed in 2006 on Chicago’s AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park, is a 110-ton elliptical sculpture forged from a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates. The sculpture, often referred to as “The Bean” by many locals because of its been-like shape, is by British artist Anish Kapoor.

The curving sculpture reflects the city’s skyline and, in a way, becomes part of the skyline. Like the Cubed Curve, photographing Cloud Gate from different angles provides different results, so the number of potential compositions is great.

An issue when photographing a reflective sculpture like Cloud Gate is avoiding having the photographer prominent in the reflection.

How did I stay out of my photos? I didn’t. If you could zoom in on an area near the center of the sculpture you’d see me standing there with the camera in front of my face.

Cupid's Span, San Francisco

Cupid’s Span is a giant sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Brugge. It’s one of a number of sculptures along the Embarcadero in San Francisco. The 60-foot-high sculpture represents a bow and arrow shooting down into a small pedestrian park.

When viewed from one side the San Francisco skyline is in the background. When viewed from the other side, the Bay Bridge is in the background. And the colors really pop when viewed on a clear day against a blue sky.

The sculpture, installed in November 2002, is bizarre in a “I wonder why they did that?” way. So I looked it up

According to a statement from the artists on their web site:

"Inspired by San Francisco's reputation as the home port of Eros, we began our project for a small park on the Embarcadero along San Francisco Bay by trying out the subject of Cupid's stereotypical bow and arrow. The first sketches were made of the subject with the bowstring drawn back, poised on the feathers of the arrow, which pointed up to the sky.

"When Coosje van Bruggen found this position too stiff and literal, she suggested turning the image upside down: the arrow and the central part of the bow could be buried in the ground, and the tail feathers, usually downplayed, would be the focus of attention. That way the image became metamorphic, looking like both a ship and a tightened version of a suspension bridge, which seemed to us the perfect accompaniment to the site. In addition, the object functioned as a frame for the highly scenic situation, enclosing — depending on where one stood — either the massed buildings of the city's downtown or the wide vista over the water and the Bay Bridge toward the distant mountains.

"As a counterpoint to romantic nostalgia, we evoked the mythological account of Eros shooting his arrow into the earth to make it fertile. The sculpture was placed on a hill, where one could imagine the arrow being sunk under the surface of plants and prairie grasses. By slanting the bow's position, Coosje added a sense of acceleration to the Cupid's Span. Seen from its ‘stern,’ the bow-as-boat seems to be tacking on its course toward the white tower of the city’s Ferry Building.”

There are many more photos of public art in my collection, many of which are in the grid below and on my site. And when I’m walking the streets of various cities I’m always looking for public art to photograph. The art itself is always interesting, but capturing photos to show how the art integrates with its surroundings is a fun photography challenge.

The Cloud Gate, on Chicago's AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park, is a 110-ton elliptical sculpture forged from a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates that reflect the city's skyline. The sculpture, often referred to as "The Bean" by many locals because of its bean-like shape, is by British artist Anish Kapoor.
Part of Chicago's skyline is reflected in the Cloud Gate sculpture on AT&T Plaza in Chicago's Millennium Park. The sculpture, by British artist Anish Kapoor, is referred to as "The Bean" by many locals for its bean-like shape.
Skyline reflected in the Cloud Gate sculpture on AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park, Chicago.
The Cloud Gate attracts a crowd on Chicago's AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park. Cloud Gate is a 110-ton elliptical sculpture forged from a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates that reflect the city's skyline. The sculpture, often referred to as "The Bean" by many locals because of its bean-like shape, is by British artist Anish Kapoor.
"Cupid's Span" sculpture on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, with city in background.
"Cupid's Span," an outdoor sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, is one of a number of sculptures along the Embarcadero in San Francisco. The 60-foot-high sculpture represents a bow and arrow shooting down into a small pedestrian park. The Bay Bridge is in the background.
"Cupid's Span" sculpture on the Embarcadero with Bay Bridge in background, San Francisco.
The Bay Bridge can be seen beneath the bow of "Cupid's Span, " a sculpture on the Embarcadero in San Francisco.
Repairing "Cupid's Span," a sculpture located along the Embarcadero.
Cubed Curve sculpture and buildings, Sixth Avenue and W 50th St., New York City.
Cubed Curve sculpture and buildings, Sixth Avenue and W 50th St., New York City.
Cubed Curve sculpture and buldings, Sixth Avenue and W 50th St., New York City.
Cubed Curve sculpture and buildings, Sixth Avenue and W 50th St., New York City.
Cubed Curve sculpture and buildings, Sixth Avenue and W 50th St., New York City.
Cubed Curve sculpture and buildings, Sixth Avenue and W 50th St., New York City.
Cubed Curve sculpture and buldings, Sixth Avenue and W 50th St., New York City.
Cubed Curve sculpture and buildings, Sixth Avenue and W 50th St., New York City.
Cubed Curve sculpture in front of buildings, Sixth Avenue and W 50th St., New York City.
Cubed Curve sculpture and buildings, Sixth Avenue and W 50th St., New York City.
Cubed Curve sculpture and buildings, Sixth Avenue and W 50th St., New York City.
Visitors silhouetted against the flames of a video billboard atop the ruby red steps in Times Square, New York City.
Sitting on the the ruby red steps in Times Square, New York City.
The eyes on a face projected on a tower of Chicago's Crown Fountain peers over the treetops when viewed from AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park. The Crown Fountain, designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, features two 50-foot glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. Video images of the faces of Chicago residents are projected on LED screens on the towers. During spring and summer months, water flows from the mouths of the projected faces.
Three Forms for Chicago, a pyramid, sphere and cube by David Nash, stand on the Museum Campus in Chicago with the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in the background.
Atlas in front of Rockefeller Center’s International Building, New York City.
The statue of Atlas in front of the Rockefeller Center International Building (50th Street and Fifth Avenue) faces St. Patrick's Cathedral across Fifth Avenue.
A visitor walks past the unisphere on the site of the 1963-64 New York World's Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, New York.
The unisphere stands behind a landscaped area on the site of the 1963-64 New York World's Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, New York.
Unisphere and World's Fair Pavilion, the the site of the 1963-64 New York World's Fair, as seen from Arthur Ashe Stadium, New York.
Sun Triangle sculpture in front of McGraw-Hill Building, New York City.
Typewriter Eraser, a sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, stands in the Sculpture Garden beside the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Infinity, an abstract sculpture designed by Jose de Rivera and created by Roy Gussow, sits outside the south entrance of the National Museum of American History, Washington, DC.
Infinity, an abstract sculpture designed by Jose de Rivera and created by Roy Gussow, stands outside the south entrance to the National Museum of American History, Washington, DC.
Unconditional Surrender, a sculpture by Seward Johnson, stands in Tuna Harbor Park in San Diego. The sculpture resembles a photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt of V–J day in Times Square, but said by Johnson to be based on a similar, less well known photograph by Victor Jorgensen.
Isamu Noguchi's Cube, a giant red-orange cube standing on its corner, stands in front of what was originally known as the Marine Midland Building,,140 Broadway, New York City.
Windows of the office tower at 140 Broadway can be seen through the hole in Isamu Noguchi's Cube, a giant red-orange cube standing on its corner in front of what was originally known as the Marine Midland Building in New York City.
The Falconer, a sculpture created in 1875 by George Blackall Simonds, prepares to release his falcon for the hunt. The sculpture stands in Central Park in New York City.
A stainless steel sculpture depicting the world stands on the south side of the Trump International Hotel and Tower, next to Columbus Circle in New York City.
Promenade, a bronze sculpture by Ann Weber, stands in Skyline Park in downtown Denver. The artist intended the sculpture to represent two people on a walk.
A portion of Indeterminate Line, a sculpture by Bernar Venet positioned next to the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, stands against the blue afternoon sky.
A portion of Indeterminate Line, a sculpture by Bernar Venet positioned next to the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, stands against the blue afternoon sky.
Hello Kitty sculpture stands at the Lever House, 390 Park Ave., New York City. Artist Tom Sachs created the sculpture, with went on display in May 2008.
A sculpture of Prometheus watches over the skating rink at Rockefeller Center. The eight-ton sculpture, by sculptor Paul Manship, was cast in 1934.
A sculpture of Prometheus watches over ice skaters at Rockefeller Center, New York City.
Love statue in front of fountain in LOVE Park, Philadelphia.
LOVE Park statue and fountain in LOVE Park, Philadelphia.
Globes line New York's Battery Park City, part of the "Cool Globes" exhibit. The exhibit, which promotes ways to fight climate change, has been shown around the world.
1 World Trade Center is seen above a globe in the "Cool Globes" exhibit in New York's Battery Park City. The exhibit, which promotes ways to fight climate change, has been shown around the world.
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building can be seen above globes outside the United States Botanic Gardens. The globes are part of the touring "Cool Globes" exhibit.
A couple walks down stairs beneath the Group of Four Trees, a sculpture by French sculpture Jean Dubuffet, in the Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza, New York City.
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Created By
Pat Hemlepp
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