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Home / Articles / Arts / Art Features /  Building for Birds
Christy Hengst
A cold spring always brings the most subversive birds: Christy Hengst leads a flock through Santa Fe.

Building for Birds

Art can be better when it’s stuck outside

April 1, 2009, 12:00 am

On a Wing and a Stare
Caught a peripheral glance of anything out of the regular migratory pattern lately? Maybe some large white and blue birds with curled, stylized heads and c-clamps for feet? If so, you’ve seen the moveable flock of artist Christy Hengst’s latest project that has been flitting around all over town.

Finished in porcelain and silk-screened with cobalt schematics, diagrams and newspaper clippings, the birds carry the media’s echoes of a wartime nation, if only an inured or overly-insulated nation. Maybe the birds are carriers, transmitting a more flesh-and-blood message than CNN can deliver or maybe they are doves of peace stained by the inky information overload of media and melee.

There’s plenty of meaning to be found among the symbols in play. The blue color of the transferred images plays to the Delft painting tradition (and recalls the excellent and subversive Disasterware and Porcelain War Museum work of artist Charles Krafft), which plays contrapuntally to the themes presented. But it is the nomadic and vagrant behavior of Hengst’s flock that is most endearing. Never rooted too long in a single place, the birds have flitted from the Santa Fe Art Institute to Tune-Up Café to Frenchy’s Field and many other perches in numbers from 30 to 60. Their covert movements and sudden appearances are refreshing in a town that has seen too little of its art out-of-bounds lately. As is mentioned below, the elite spaces created for the exhibition of art sometimes function poorly for that purpose and, in fact, reinforce the notion that art is meant to be a segregated and hallowed experience, rather than an act of routine wonder.

“Birds in the Park” will presumably go on as long as the artist continues to find inspired locations to land or until it’s time to migrate. Hengst plans to allow the birds to roam as far as Los Alamos, California, New York, Louisiana, Germany and even the Galapagos Islands. Yes, but what about Denver?

When Form Bullies Function
A recent trip to Denver finally afforded me the opportunity to visit the Hamilton Building at the Denver Art Museum. Designed by starchitect Daniel Libeskind, the building points out across the street and toward the original museum, like a ship’s prow or, as envisioned, like a rocky crag.

The sharp and angular interior spaces demanded by such a form, complete with sloping walls, are said to reduce “museum fatigue,” a condition presumably brought on by wandering through rectangle after rectangle while looking at rectangle after rectangle. That may be true, in particular, for tourists who are likely to visit the museum once in their lives: The spectacular forms, bizarre planes and strange corners will be a disruption from the mundane. Much to their joy, they will hardly be required to look at the art at all.

However, if one might like to return to a museum over and over again in order to admire its collections and enjoy traveling exhibitions, Libeskind’s building does little to prevent “architect fatigue.”

Only rare and specific works are assisted by the museum’s rigid spaces (Christy Hengst’s birds would look good grouped on the prow), with most works awkwardly situated within the architecture. It’s an old harp to suggest such a building overwhelms the artwork inside, but what about underwhelming it? As a brochure and web-ready icon for the city of Denver, the addition is certainly apt, but as an enduring force in fulfilling the museum’s mission, it falls into the same category of art—one liners with questionable staying power—that ought not be included in museum collections, much less encase them entirely.

 

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