Oct. 29 2008 12:00 AM

A piece of fine art being stored at the Lansing wastewater treat

On Nov. 30, 1973, residents of Lansing met “Construction #150,” a sculpture by abstract expressionist Jose de Rivera. The sculpture used to sit high atop an 8-foot pedestal on the pedestrian mall at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Washington Square. According to a Lansing State Journal article from 1973, residents reacted to the swooping piece of art, which looks like someone ribbon dancing with a piece of silver, with incredulity and a “shake of the head” because of its $90,000 price.

In 2001, when the city reopened Washington Square to vehicular traffic, the sculpture was put in a crate and shipped off to storage at the city wastewater treatment plant on Sunset Avenue.

But Lansing Community College is working on an agreement with the city to take the sculpture on loan and set it up in an outdoor space between the Dart Auditorium and the student services building, facing Capitol Avenue.

LCC spokeswoman Chris Hollister said the piece could be up as soon as November once an agreement is signed with the city. “I say it’s ‘likely’ going to happen because of an agreement we’re drafting,” Hollister said. “But I don’t see any problems with the agreement. I think the city and the college will like having it out where our community can see it again.”

Hollister said the idea to bring back “Construction #150” came from Robert Ford, of Landscape Architects and Planners, who does contract landscape architecture for the college. Hollister said that the school would pay for construction of a new base. Bob Johnson, the director of the city’s planning and neighborhood development department, said the weather had damaged some of the sculptures internal mecahanisms. But the sculpture, which is meant to turn with the help of the wind, still works.

Lansing almost didn’t get the de Rivera piece. In 1972, the Lansing Urban Redevelopment Board got together with the Lansing Fine Arts Council to apply for a $45,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant to buy a piece of fine art. The NEA awarded the grant and $45,000 more was raised through private donations, according to the book, “Outdoor Sculptures in Lansing,” by Fay Hendry.

Lansing was originally aiming for a piece by pop artist Claus Oldenburg, who is known for “soft” sculptures and for creating large versions of everyday objects.

According to Hendry, a few concepts for a Lansing Oldenburg included an ashtray, a catcher’s mitt and a Good Humor ice cream bar. However, fabrication problems nixed the latter two, while the school system, which was in the midst of an anti-smoking campaign, objected to an ashtray.

De Rivera died in 1986. His work is on display at museums across the country, including the Smithsonian. In a 1968 interview with Smithsonian oral historian Paul Cummings, de Rivera described an upcoming piece for a “mall area.” “It has two elements … I don’t intend for it to move. If the shape is simple and it moves, it describes a whole area that you don’t see,” de Rivera said. “If you get used to it moving, it moves. Right?”

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