Friday, January 15, 2010
The southern end of Stanwix Street is, for the most part, steely and anonymous. It's comprised largely of big office buildings in various shades of silver and gray, with relatively few points of entry to the street, and little to catch the eye.
Any measure of detail or lightness here is welcome. Starting Jan. 11, pedestrians had a new one. "Rivers of Glass: Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue" was officially unveiled in the 11 Stanwix Building (the one with the rotating ad-agency sign at the corner of Fort Pitt Boulevard).
The work consists of some 1,300 hand-blown glass forms suspended across (I'm guessing) some 250 feet of the the building's high-ceilinged lobby. The sculpture is tantalizingly if faintly visible from street level on Stanwix. (Look behind the United Steelworkers building: The 11 Stanwix lobby faces the courtyard abutting those two structures and the Post-Gazette building.)
Looking from left to right as you enter the plate-glass-windowed lobby, you'll see two narrow bands of the forms converging overhead to form one.
"Rivers of Glass" is by the Beacon, N.Y.-based artist team of Jill Reynolds and glass-blower Daniel Spitzer. The concept behind it is twofold. One, it's meant to conjure Pittsburgh's three rivers, and is in fact aligned as they are. Two, according to a press release, the glass forms "are hung to create an undulating wave that represents a segment of a sound wave from the song ‘Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,' by Pittsburgh jazz legend Billy Strayhorn."
That might sound a little conceptually contrived, but it works.
First, the color is pretty: The delicate-walled forms (modeled on 26 different shapes of water droplet) range from a deep bottle-blue to transparent enough to take on the hues of a gray January sky.
This suggests a rather hopeful rendering of even the Allegheny's coloration, let alone the muddy Mon's. But the effect is impressive. Simply by hanging either three or four gracefully bulbous shapes from each of a series of steel cables, and varying their heights (to mimic those sound waves), the artist create a great feeling of movement and grace in a quite boxy space.
I thought the best view was found with one's back to the window that faces toward the Point. From there, the sculpture's "forks" seem to flow away, yet somehow to become more densely packed as they do, one of them as it curls around a corner and disappears into a hall off the lobby.
From the building's courtyard, by contrast, you get a nice sense of the ethereal installation leavening the brownish-black, 24-story mass of 11 Stanwix, which was first constructed as the Westinghouse Building, in 1970. (It now houses offices for state workers, among others.)
The sculpture project (with its $75,000 artist commission) was sponsored by building-owner RexxHall Realty, in partnership with EDGE Studio and Pittsburgh Glass Center (where the glass was blown).
The 11 Stanwix Building is open to the public during weekday business hours. The photograph at right is courtesy of Nathan J. Shaulis.