Sally Pettus / Quatum Leaf Articles  

Riverwalk sculptures unveiled
Bucksbaums, American Republic donate artwork to Des Moines

October 6, 2004

The Des Moines Art Center, Principal Financial Group and American Republic Insurance on Tuesday unveiled three sculptures that will become part of the Principal Riverwalk, a 1.2-mile promenade that will flank the Des Moines River from roughly the Center Street Dam to south of Court Avenue.

The pieces should be in place by the fall of 2005.

Philanthropist Melva Bucksbaum and her daughter, Mary, donated two of the pieces, collectively worth $1.5 million: "Untitled," a 20-foot contemporary bronze sculpture by Joel Shapiro; and "Quantum Leaf," a sculpture by Sally Pettus that is designed to be set "afloat" in a fountain of water.

The third sculpture, "Column of Change" by Michael Pavlovsky, is an 81/2-foot bronze totem pole with faces and figures in relief. Donated by American Republic Insurance, it currently stands on the company's property.

Melva Bucksbaum, former wife of the late Martin Bucksbaum, a founder of General Growth Properties Inc., explained her choices.

"I thought the best thing for Des Moines was to have some significant, world-class sculptures," she said. "One piece is energetic and linear, really tough. It will make people think. Then there's the organic, beautiful lovely piece by Sally."

Shapiro's piece was completed in 2003. It stands 20 feet high, 22 feet wide and 16 feet deep.

According to the artist, the sculpture references human movement reduced to a stick-like configuration. It can be considered transparent, allowing interplay with the buildings around it and people walking nearby.

The piece will be located between the river and City Hall.

"It's one of the biggest I've done, but it's not colossal," Shapiro said. "You can really participate in the piece. It changes from different points of view and has a sort of celebratory balance."

Shapiro currently has work in a show in New York City's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum with other minimalist artists, such as Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt.

Bucksbaum commissioned "Quantum Leaf," another work in bronze, after seeing some of Pettus' recent sculptural efforts. Pettus and Bucksbaum have homes near each other in Connecticut. This is the artist's first large-scale public art work.

"Quantum Leaf," about 15 feet in diameter and 11 feet in height, looks like an oversized dying leaf with its edges curled. The artist's plans call for it to be placed in a fountain with water pouring from the leaf into a circular pond. It is designed for a park-like setting north of the Downtown YMCA.

"The abstract concept is about regeneration," Pettus said. "The leaf falls from a tree. It could land on water and die, and then the cycle of life begins again."

Pavlovsky's column was originally commissioned as a civil rights monument. He made another civil rights monument for the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn. The exact placement of this piece has yet to be decided.

All the sculptures will be placed behind levees and elevated, when possible, to protect them from possible flooding.

The works were given the blessing of the Greater Des Moines Art Foundation, which has been working with the city to bring public art to Des Moines.

The Shapiro and Pettus pieces were given to the Art Center and were subject to the approval of the center's acquisition committee.

They will be on permanent loan to the Riverwalk project.

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Quantum Leaf
[Posted 10:30 AM by Roger Kimball]

When I told a friend that I was going to a big art event yesterday in Beacon, New York, he asked "Is it at DIA Beacon?" "No," I explained, "I mean real art, not the empty pretentiousness at Dia." ("Empty pretentiousness"? Click here for an explanation of what I mean.) The event in question was at the great foundry and fabrication facility Tallix, the one real art establishment at Beacon.

About 200 people congregated at Tallix yesterday afternoon to bid ave atque vale to Quantum Leaf, the mammoth bronze sculpture that the artist Sally Pettus just finished. It was the first time most of us had seen this spectacular work (the finishing touches on the patina were finished only two days before), and for many of us it would be the last. In short order, all two or three tons of it will be loaded onto a flatbed truck and transported carefully to Des Moines, Iowa, where it will form the centerpiece of Riverwalk, a new outdoors public art project.

Have you heard of Sally Pettus? You will be hearing of her soon if you haven't already. She is a painter and sculptor of rare talent and vivacity, endlessly inventive. Her work (click here for a few images) is at once instantly likable and infinitely suggestive. Her easy technical command and plastic ingenuity have equipped her with an extraordinary visual fluency. A single glance tells you that Pettus's work lives at a very high level of technical accomplishment. It also exhibits a high degree of of an essential quality that is much derided today: good taste. There is a taut fastidiousness about Pettus's work, her paintings as well as her sculpture, a visual economy and decorum that only highlights the brooding, eldritch quality that dwells beneath the often playful surfaces of her work. Quantum Leaf leaf is a case in point. Fifteen-feet across, this breathtaking botanical fantasy is exquisitely rendered. It is a sort of existential archetype, at once inviting and minatory: cheerful on the surface but also a sober emblem of mortality and the transitory nature of nature.

The citizens of Des Moines will be lucky to get Quantum Leaf. But what about us? Isn't it time that our cultural commissars wake up and start supporting artists of Pettus's caliber instead of foisting off on the public the senile aesthetic abominations of the pseudo avant-garde?

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