Proposed sculpture for the birds, some say But others like artwork of mating hummingbirds for federal building

September 15, 1997|By D. Quentin Wilber | D. Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

How much noise do mating hummingbirds make?

In downtown Baltimore, it appears they can cause quite a hum of protest, at least at the beleaguered George H. Fallon Building.

PTC There, a $350,000 aluminum sculpture depicting the flight paths of two mating hummingbirds might be woven into the federal building's facade facing Hopkins Plaza. The proposed artwork has some employees protesting what they call wasteful government spending, especially in light of the building's past woes.

The General Services Administration hasn't made a final recommendation on the piece, but on July 31, a community arts panel voted to recommend approval of the project. If the GSA backs those plans without revisions, artist Alice Aycock could begin constructing the sculpture as early as spring.

Opinions about the proposed sculpture are mixed.

"I've seen a scribble of it," said Joseph White, 49, an Internal

Revenue Service customer service representative in the building. Doesn't look like much for $350,000."

Judgment reserved

The sculpture would be about 40 feet high, 106 feet long and 30 feet wide, according to documents supplied to the panel. Pictures of the project show winding aluminum trusses sharply turning and veering throughout the terrace and meeting at a yellow light.

At Hopkins Plaza recently, about a dozen federal employees at the building said they didn't know what to think about the sculpture. Some shrugged. Others said they would reserve judgment until they could see a color picture or a model, which officials refused to make available.

However, while most didn't criticize the artwork, they did question its cost, especially after expensive renovations to the building and the health problems suffered by federal workers there.

In May, more than two dozen federal employees in the building were hospitalized after complaining of faintness, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting. Since then, workers have not experienced any serious health problems, said Alfred DeLucia, regional spokesman for the GSA.

"It's an erector set, really," said Tobye Karp, president of Chapter 62 of the National Treasury Employees Union. "It's unconscionable that they might spend this money now."

GSA officials said the hummingbirds most likely would be on display above the Fallon facade because the process has gone this far. They also stressed the complexity of the budget process and a $45 million fix-up of the building.

Kennedy administration

"If people are complaining about the money spent on art, then they're complaining about a government policy that goes back to the Kennedy administration," DeLucia said.

The GSA regional office in Philadelphia must review the art panel's decision and make a recommendation. It will send that decision to Washington, where the GSA will offer its final verdict.

Members of the art panel were told not to speak to the media, but several voiced their support for the project and said they thought Aycock's piece would add to the plaza's character.

"It's so elegant and fanciful," said Cindy Kelly, a panel member and public art consultant in Baltimore. "It's just what that building needs."

This isn't the first instance of artwork ruffling people's feathers in Baltimore. More than 20 years ago, a colored metal sculpture was placed in front of the Garmatz Federal Courthouse across Lombard Street from the Fallon Building. Since then, judges and building denizens have complained about its appearance.

A local engineer, Pravin Mehta, will help design and construct the Fallon sculpture. He said it will be his first sculpture. "I'd like to see some swing in it," he said, "to see it move a little bit."

Pub Date: 9/15/97

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