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Abstract Sculpture Coming To Annapolis Roundabout


The Capital of Annapolis

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- Is it a shipwreck? A decaying Moby Dick? Sailboat masts? Fish on spears?

Annapolis motorists will have a chance to interpret an abstract sculpture in the center of the roundabout at the head of Inner West Street.

For almost two years, the city's Art in Public Places Commission has been arranging a temporary installation for Westgate Circle. The commission, a mayor-appointed body of nine residents, selected a sculpture titled "Shoal," which is another word for a sandbar.

It will tower 18 feet, according to artist Robert Donovan's proposal, and consist of five massive oak and poplar wood ribs spaced out in a slightly arched row. The ribs are meant to resemble either a deteriorating sunken sailboat or the skeletal remains of a whale. Suspended above the arcs will be about 20 "crudely carved forms" made out of cedar wood that look like fish or furled sails.

"It's a terrific site," said Donovan, who thinks the project is a good opportunity for an artist to make a statement in a prominent location. He called the area at Westgate Circle "an introduction to the city."

Donovan, who is based in Clarksburg, said his artwork tends to incorporate wood, steel and stone and naturalistic references. His pieces have been included in collections at large museums, such as the National Museum of Art and The Smithsonian American Art Museum. He is currently the director of the Hyattstown Mill Arts Project.

"I've always been attracted to the process of deterioration," he said, "so I was thinking in terms of how the ocean literally is the graveyard of ships and the kind of process that takes over time."

Donovan's project is estimated to cost $10,000.

The City Council budgeted $20,000 for the commission for fiscal 2012. Half of the funds are for this project, and the other half is earmarked for maintenance of existing public art in Annapolis.

At least one city leader was skeptical about the project's value. Though Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, said he understood that even a temporary exhibit aesthetically adds to a landscape, he wondered whether the commission was going about it in the right way.

"We're not buying art, we're renting art," he said, as the project only covers the installation and maintenance of a temporary exhibit for two years. At the end of that term, the artist will disassemble the sculpture, and the commission will seek another temporary sculpture.

Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4, disagreed about whether the project was a worthy investment.

"Ten thousand dollars is no money," she said. "We're really, really lucky."

But Arnett had other concerns. Based on the description of the project, he wasn't sure it spoke to the environment.

"I would think we'd want something at Westgate Circle that is evocative of Annapolis," he said. "The analogy of a wreck in our circle leaves you scratching your head."

The three finalists' proposals were posted on the city's website a couple of months ago and generated about 300 comments. Donovan's plans drew mixed reviews.

"Not everyone is going to like what's there, necessarily," commission chairman Tom Fridrich said. "Frankly, that's the point of the artwork: to have a conversation. And I think that's what we're going to end up with."

The sculpture might be installed this month.

Donovan said communities not only need art, but artists need communities.

"Not insular communities of like-minded people, but rather the broader inclusive community of all," he said. "That is what is exciting about public art, and why I am an ardent arts advocate."

Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md.,

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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