Broad Museum exhibit puts public art at its heart


Seemingly invisible works of public art become visible again in a new exhibit at the Broad Art Museum.

Public art in Greater Lansing is the focus of “Art Along the River, Grand,” which opened this month as a part of the museum’s 10-year anniversary series. The museum, designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid, is itself considered to be a work of avant-garde public art.

Steven Bridges, the museum’s senior curator, said he was interested in developing a conversation around the role of public art — an art form he finds is often forgotten about. 

The exhibition features framed blueprints for “This Equals That,” by the internationally known sculptor Michael Heizer. The 1980 work was installed on the West Plaza of the State Capitol Complex under the leadership of Gov. William Milliken and drew visitors from around the world. But in 2002, Gov. John Engler ordered it removed for repair work in a garage below. Damaged in the process, it was consigned, unprotected, to a state field in Mason, then acquired by Detroit billionaire Alex Manoogian and stored in a warehouse, never to be seen again. 

The blueprint frames are placed on top of a wallpaper collage of images of public creative expressions. The photographic images in the floor-to-ceiling wallpaper were captured by Bill Castanier, whose work is described as a “uniquely democratic approach” in documenting public art. It shows the ways that people have added color and texture to their environments. Visitors may recognize certain locations when looking at the wallpaper.

“Hopefully, it sparks a little bit of interest,” Bridges said about the wallpaper collage. “It’s not differentiating what is art and what is not art, or what is good or what is bad. Let’s just celebrate and take in all the incredible forms of expression that exist around us all the time.” 

Castanier, a longtime contributor to City Pulse, is the president of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing. Public creative expressions fascinate him, and he’s been documenting public art in the area since the 1970s. He took the images over the last year.

“Lansing’s got amazing public art,” Castanier said. “I don’t think people recognize it.”

Simple store signs will catch Castanier’s eye, but more complex works will draw his attention as well. Signs like that of Old Town’s Unicorn Lounge can be found within the wallpaper.

“You can drive around town and see stuff that makes you smile, makes you frown and teaches you a lesson,” he said.

Castanier said much of the documentation is for himself and the Historical Society. Many pieces are undocumented, its creators unknown. His images may one day serve as artifacts of what public art used to look like, something that is ever-changing over time. 

The exhibition encourages visitors to explore the available resources to examine local public art. One feature of the exhibit is a video showing the various works of public art on MSU’s campus, which has recently focused on installing work that promotes diversity and inclusion. Visitors can scan a QR code to view the locations in the video. 

A goal of the exhibition is to highlight the historical lack of diversity and inclusion in the field of public art. Some pieces in the exhibition that showcase diversity are from the Lansing Art Gallery’s ArtPath, a two-and-a-half-mile exhibition along the Lansing River Trail. 

Bridges said that the pieces look at public art “through the lens of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.” It’s important to display the work of marginalized artists — especially people of color and women — because they have been “historically excluded” from the public art scene, he said. 

This idea was carried over into one of the museum’s lead exhibitions, “History Told Slant: Seventy-seven Years of Collecting Art at MSU,” which features the museum’s broad art collection, much of it stored out of sight. The exhibition addresses “historical blind spots or biases” with the intent of encouraging a more diverse narrative. 

Bridges described the public art exhibition as taking a more historical look at public art and acknowledging the ways that it has been an exclusionary process. While doing so, the exhibit also highlights more local and more recent initiatives that rectify some of those histories with a “decolonizing lens.” 

“Public art is so wonderful and is such an important part of our landscape,” Bridges said. “It exists all around us. I think there’s also a way that it can become invisible.” 

Bridges is hopeful that this exhibition will “shine a light” back on public art in the Greater Lansing area. Public art is a free experience, and it contributes to the culture of the city. 

“There’s always something for everyone,” Bridges said. “And I think that’s one of the most wonderful things about public art, isn’t it?” 

Though “Art Along the River, Grand” is on display only until Aug. 23, public art in the Greater Lansing region is on display all year. 

MSU Broad Art Museum

547 E. Circle Dr., East Lansing

10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Thursday – Sunday

Free ticket reservation required. 

MSU requires proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test to visit.  Masks are mandatory.

(517) 884-4800


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