Unpopular courthouse art is removed -- for now

October 09, 1997|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

For two decades, few people have understood the multicolored metal sculpture outside Baltimore's federal courthouse. Even fewer have liked it.

As workers at the Edward A. Garmatz federal courthouse finished dismantling "Baltimore Federal" yesterday and sent it away for a five-month makeover, many who work at the building expressed hope it would never return.

"I watched them load the last piece of the sculpture. I kept hoping it would fall off the back of the truck and get all crumpled up," said one courthouse clerk who did not want to be named, for fear of incurring the wrath of a U.S. District judge. "I hate that thing."

The 20-year-old structure will receive a $40,000 face-lift by artists in North Haven, Conn., and is due back in Baltimore by March.

Installed in front of the courthouse on Lombard Street in 1978, the 20-by-45-foot sculpture was intended to "express the relationship between the public and the courts, freedom and democratic equality," according to a small plaque that remains at the site.

After the entwined sculpture of red, blue, yellow and green metal was completed, the General Services Administration, which operates the Garmatz building and commissioned the artwork, praised sculptor George Sugarman for achieving "true public art in which the openness and accessibility of the forms, and the variety of experiences they allow, need no specific understanding." The art's meaning eludes most people.

"I don't get it. I thought it was a bird," said Frank Canapino of Precision Fabricators Inc., the North Haven company that will refurbish the piece.

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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