Giant Daffodils in Schenley Plaza | Program Notes
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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Giant Daffodils in Schenley Plaza

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2009 at 12:45 PM

I've seen these sculptures a couple times -- by night, like you're supposed to -- and I'm still trying to find some redeeming value in them, or some evidence they're worth whatever they cost the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

There's five of the things, 16-foot-tall sculptures of flowers. They're best visible from Forbes Avenue, in a pair and a cluster of three, the leaves and stems lit green, with yellow-and-orange heads.

The sculptures, by Louis Emmel Ornamental Iron, of Coraopolis, were lit in mid-February, and loom over the plaza's still-dormant flower beds. The Conservancy means them to advertise the Pittsburgh Daffodil Project, a collaboration with the Penn State University Cooperative Extension and the City of Pittsburgh to plant "millions of daffodil bulbs" in these parts in the years to come.

The planting project itself sounds fine. Flowers, I'm told, are pretty, and the Conservancy says new daffodils in Frick, Highland, Riverview and Schenley parks (for starters) should reduce the need to mow, while the mulch in the beds will benefit nearby trees. Thanks to volunteer labor, more than 12,000 bulbs had been planted by mid-February, 7,500 of them along Bartlett Street, in Schenley.

You'd think that many flowers, once they blossomed, would be sufficient adverstisements for themselves. But here are these extraterrestrial entities, rather awkwardly greeting passersby and visitors to the Forbes-Bigelow intersection's high concentration of cultural amenities.

They look, I'm sorry to say, pretty tacky. The Conservancy deserves praise for creating the Plaza itself; it's a vast improvement over the bleak parking lot that stood there for years, and it's come into its own as a venue for performances, summer movie screenings, community events and simply hanging out. But remember that ridiculous "Pittsburgh Roars" campaign a few years back, and the huge inflatable creatures that appeared all over town (most of them listing drunkenly)? If I recall correctly, the one in Schenley Plaza looked like a buck deer sitting on the toilet. What is it about this poor Plaza that makes people want to improve it with lowest-common-denominator art?

Unlike a Claes Oldenburg clothespin, the daffodils aren't conceptual enough to provoke. And all lit up like that, they don't even have the decency to simply fade into the background, like those life-sized magnolia-tree sculputres Downtown, at Seventh and Penn. I guess if you're going to be as gauche as a Christmas display, you might as well be assertive about it.

I'm glad, at least, that the lights on the daffodils are energy-efficienct LEDs. That way, the real flowers might come a little closer to sequestering the greenhouse gasses being emitted to keep their faux avatars brightly twinkling through April.

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