Austin Art in Public Places

Spring is a time to get out and enjoy the great outdoors.  This doesn’t need to lead to jumping in the car, and driving two hours to go camping or any other venture that takes time to plan, it can be as simple as slowing down, staying in Austin, and checking out the cultural map of art in public places.  There is plenty to see on any street within the city.  Just driving into town down South First on a regular basis, I love seeing the “Greetings From Austin” mural, the city utility boxes that have been painted with murals, and all the other creative street art.  The random whimsical stuffed animals that someone attached to the majority of the telephone poles driving in towards town makes the stop and go traffic much more bearable!

There has been a recent installation at Pease Park (2201 Parkway) that has captured my attention.  It is called “Stickwork” by artist Patrick Dougherty.  Four whimsical huts constructed from seven truckloads of willow, elm, ash sticks and saplings from Stonewall, Texas, make up the installation. Dougherty with the help of community volunteers made up the structures that will last as long as the big bad wolf doesn’t come into town.

Waller Creek Conservancy continues to develop a chain of parks around a restored Waller Creek in downtown Austin. The new Waller Creek Park district will include more than 37 acres of newly designed and connected urban parks and public open spaces with hike and bike trails. At Waller Delta (74 Trinity St.) there is an installation entitled “Forever Bicycles” by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. There are 1,200 bicycles constructed into one large dizzying sculpture whose wheels are now frozen in perpetual cycle. 

A lesser known public art space is the Grotto Wall at Sparky Park (3701 Grooms St.).  A former energy substation for the City of Austin, it is tucked away close to the intersection of Grooms and 38th Street in Hyde Park.  It isn’t as extravagant as heading to Barcelona to see works of Gaudi, but worth packing a picnic lunch and exploring whimsical art here in Austin.

“Nightwing” (300 S. Congress) I consider as of more a directional focal point in the S. Congress corridor.  It is the spinning bat sculpture that is the meeting place for friends when participating in the Cap 10K, or other downtown events.   As a bonus, it’s near the YETI store, which happens to have a bar within the store, so you can stop by for an adult beverage and become mesmerized by the “Nightwing” as you drink your Lone Star.  Bonus, at dusk, you can wander onto the Congress Avenue Bridge to see the bats take flight.  This nightly mass exodus is itself a living and fluid sculpture, Mother Nature at her ethereal best.

Meandering down Cesar Chavez from Congress towards Mopac, I like to see if anyone is eating with friends at the “Open Room” (115 Sandra Muraida Way). This art in public places invites you and your friends to have a dinner party or elaborate lunch on the 24’ table equipped with a tablecloth (metal)  and lovely ambient lighting.  A few times I have seen birthday party celebrations taking place, or a mixture of family, friends and friendly dogs enjoying a nice meal together.

One last sculpture  that has always captured my fancy is “Your Essential Magnificence” (2204 S. Congress) It is an homage to South Austin establishments and has mementos embedded in it from the Broken Spoke, Armadillo World Headquarters, and The Cathedral of Junk.  Part peacock, part throne, it encompasses all that is random and great about Austin. L’art, c’est la vie!