Last Thursday, with 19 days left until St. Pete’s Pier referendum, the political action committee Build the Pier (buildthepier.com) convened a public meeting at the Studio@620. Their agenda was to discuss an aspect of the new Pier design that has hitherto received little attention — the Lens’s role as a potential site for a new and iconic work of public art.
Between $300,000 and $375,000 of the new Pier’s budget would be spent on commissioned public art for the facility, explained architect Lisa Wannemacher of Wannemacher Jensen Architects, the local partner of Lens designer Michael Maltzan’s firm, to a sympathetic crowd of about 40 Lens supporters. The allocation of .75% of the project’s budget toward public art is required of public works projects with construction costs greater than $10 million.
“If this community votes to terminate the contract between Michael Maltzan and the city, and the Lens is not built, the city not only loses the Pier, it also loses the extraordinary possibility for a monumental piece of public art,” Wannemacher said.
With a presentation of videos and slides of influential public artworks including Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (2004-2006) — the mirrored bean that has become a calling card for Chicago’s revitalized downtown — Wannemacher all but promised that the results of such a public art commission, should it proceed, would be cool. One particular type of public art, the increasingly popular practice of projection mapping, or tailoring video projections to create elaborate three-dimensional illusions on the surfaces of buildings, featured so predominantly in the architect’s presentation that she, in effect, asked the audience: What if the surface of the Lens’s canopy could become a screen for digital art? (Lights On Tampa 2006 commissioned projection mapping onto UT's Plant Hall.)
If construction of the Lens proceeds, reality could turn out to be more prosaic. The city will oversee the selection process, with cultural affairs manager Elizabeth Brinklow in charge of appointing the nine-member committee that would pick a project or projects for development; Wannemacher would be a member. Seeming to want to assuage fears among local artists — there were several in the audience — that they wouldn’t be considered seriously when (or if) proposals are solicited, Wannemacher emphasized that “all options are on the table.”
“Michael [Maltzan] feels that it doesn’t matter if the artists selected are local and international, or if it’s a collaborative team of local and international artists, as long as it’s good,” Wannemacher said.
“The possibilities are endless,” she said.