Why is a Blow-Up Calder Sculpture Popping Up All Over Fort Worth?

Depending on what channels your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds are plugged into, you may have noticed an odd recurring image popping up all week: a limp, blow-up creation, something like a sad and saggy dragon, only abstract and bright red, photographed in random spots around Fort Worth. That’s The Eagle Has Landed, the latest project from Fort Worth art collective Homecoming! Committee. It is modeled after Alexander Calder’s red steel sculpture The Eagle, which used to sit on Throckmorton St. in downtown Fort Worth until 2009 when the owners of the “public art” surprised the city by quickly and quietly removing it overnight and selling it to a museum.

The Eagle reappeared outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and then in its current location in the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park. But Fort Worth lost what was once its most beloved pieces of public art. The controversy that surrounded The Eagle’s departure from Fort Worth led to the establishment of the city’s current day public art program.

The Homecoming! Committee’s blow-up Calder is a tongue-in-cheek gesture that picks up on the polemical context that surrounds the Calder sculpture’s history. Its presence is an uncomfortable reminder of the lost sculpture, but the new piece is also a gift back to the city, funded through all the mechanisms and agencies put in place after the removal of the Calder (Downtown Fort Worth Inc., Fort Worth South, and the FW Arts Council are all sponsors of the project). It is a piece of ephemeral monumentalism, an art elephant in the city’s public living room.

It only takes one glance, however, to recognized that it is a less-than-satisfying exchange – and self-consciously so. In addition to its temporality, The Eagle Has Landed undercuts Calder’s own modernist whimsy – out whimsy-ing the most whimsical of the modernist sculptors. If Calder’s humor is Jacques Tati, Homecoming’s piece is Judd Apatow. It materials digest Calder’s inventive, formal asthetics and spew out a dismantled derivative substitution, an imperfect copy that trades steel for bounce house vinyl. It is a sculpture that exists as a performance, an artwork that is literally deconstructed every night, and whose permanence is only the illusion of the fragile systems (a high powered fan, an electrical cord) that keep it afloat. If you are familiar with the work of one of Homecoming!Committee’s members, Bradly Brown, you will recognize similar traits with his other work: a gesture at sustaining technological equilibrium within a systematic context that is both arcane and absurd.

That formal dialogue between the two sculptures ends up informing the social-political one. What was the Calder removal if not a failure of a public system – or perhaps the inevitable outcome of a well-functioning system of private ownership? What does this paltry imitation say self-reflexively about the purchase power of governmental arts funding versus the purchase power of the museum? And where does this paradoxical institutional competition leave the public? It’s the self-effacing honesty that I think I like most about Homecoming!’s piece. At least with this new sculpture the public knows what it is getting: here today, gone tomorrow.

You can go see it on its final day-long landing this Friday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Burnett Park, 501 W. 7th St. Fort Worth, TX 76102.

Here are all of this week’s events and openings:

 

THURSDAY

Love, Death + the Desert at Kettle Art — February 27, 7 p.m. 2650-B Main Street, Dallas, TX 75226.

“Tête-à-Tête” Jeff Gibbons & Justin Ginsberg at CentralTrak — February 27, 7 p.m. 800 Exposition Ave, Dallas, TX 75226.

A Conversation on Alexander Hogue at Dallas Museum of Art — February 27, 7:30-8:30 p.m. 1717 North Harwood Street, Dallas, TX 75201.

FRIDAY

Alice Leora Briggs / James Sullivan at The Gallery at UTA — February 28, 6:30 p.m. 169 Fine Arts Building, 502 S. Cooper St. Arlington, TX 76019.

Dr. Seuss’110th Birthday Art Auction at The Texas Theater — February 28, 8 p.m. 231 W. Jefferson Blvd Oak Cliff, Dallas, TX 75208.

SATURDAY

“Clear Jam” at CentralTrak — February 29, 12-5 p.m. 800 Exposition Ave, Dallas, TX 75226.

Performance by Courtney Brown/Closing reception (wo)manorial at The Reading Room — February 29, 4-6 p.m. 3715 Parry Ave, Dallas, Texas 75226.

RUD3 BOYZ at Wordspace — November 29, 5-9 p.m. 415 North Tyler Street, Dallas, TX 75208.

We Put This ________ On Everything And You Should Too at Mokah Gallery — November 29, 6-9 p.m. 2803 Taylor Street, Dallas, Texas 75226.

David Collins: Unbound at Valley House Gallery — November 29, 6-8:30 p.m. 6616 Spring Valley Road, Dallas, Texas 75254.

Joshua Goode: Artifacts from the Burial Site of the Unicorn T-Rex at Ro2 Art — November 29, 7-10 p.m. 110 N. Akard , Dallas, TX 75201.

SUNDAY

Latino Arts Fest in the Bishop Arts District — March 2, 3-8 p.m. N. Bishop at Davis St., Dallas, TX 75208.