Business & Real Estate

Sacramento airport’s big red rabbit means business – really

Construction workers mingle around the 56-foot-long, 15-foot diameter "Leap", a red rabbit made of steel and aluminum by Denver artist Lawrence Argent hangs from cables inside the new Terminal B at the Sacramento international Airport.
Construction workers mingle around the 56-foot-long, 15-foot diameter "Leap", a red rabbit made of steel and aluminum by Denver artist Lawrence Argent hangs from cables inside the new Terminal B at the Sacramento international Airport. rpench@sacbee.com

Sculptor Lawrence Argent, the man behind that giant red rabbit at Sacramento International Airport, will discuss public art and his body of work Wednesday at the Crocker Art Museum. He also will debut merchandise featuring his much-debated piece, formally known as “Leap.”

Argent is visiting at the request of gallery owner Rebecca Garrison and the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission. Garrison soon will be shutting down her 5-year-old business, The Temp Gallery at 1616 Del Paso Blvd., she said, and her final show will remind everyone that they don’t have to go to a gallery or museum to see great art.

“Sacramento has a spectacular collection of public art that can viewed by walking, driving or using transit,” Garrison told me. “I started to ask people: What do you consider Sacramento’s most iconic public art work? The most mentioned pieces were the airport’s red rabbit, ‘Indo Arch’ (by Gerald Walburg) and Stephen Kaltenbach’s ‘A Time To Cast Away Stones‘ on K Street.”

She asked all three artists if they would provide work for The Temp’s final show, “Art for Everyone,” and each agreed. The show will run Thursday through Nov. 23, and Argent’s free lecture will set the stage at 7 p.m. Wednesday at 216 O St.

“I’ll be talking about some of the interesting processes by which we had to make the piece in the Sacramento airport,” Argent said. “When people see it, it’s very important for them to understand ... the complications that perhaps no one ever sees.”

Argent will also discuss some of his more recent works, such as “Pieces Together” at Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Campus in Los Angeles. For that sculpture, Argent roved around southeast Los Angeles, talking with residents, capturing their words on video and photographing their faces. He pieced all their lips together in a giant jigsaw puzzle, and he created a website where you can hear and see them.

Public art is crucial to an urban ecosystem, inviting people to explore, debate, imagine, stay and, yes, even invest, said Phil Hitchcock, director of the University Library Art Gallery at Sacramento State.

“Public art in a community ... establishes a front door, the attitude, the thoughtfulness and the caring that people have about their community,” Hitchcock said. “Why do developers put artwork voluntarily in the lobby of their buildings? It’s to set a certain attitude, a certain level of quality that attracts a tenant, a good tenant.”

Chicago’s Millennium Park, a $490 million public-private project, hums with the power of public art, said Shelly Willis, the art commission’s executive director. Although its final pricetag was three times that announced in 1998, Chicagoans such as Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Blair Kamin still describe it as “the best thing former Mayor Richard M. Daley ever did.”

Summer days lure crowds to frolick in Spanish artist Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain, where giant faces projected from 147 LED screens purse their lips every five minutes and appear to pour out a torrent of water on people below. And, then there’s British artist Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” sculpture, which has been christened “The Bean” by residents because it looks like a shiny silver jelly bean arcing above them. The piece has proven to be irresistible to passers-by whose handprints smudge its surface.

In a July column, Kamin noted that a 2011 study by Texas A&M and DePaul universities found that nearly $2.45 billion in new condominium, office and hotel construction had been built near the park since it opened 10 years ago.

“You also have Michael Bloomberg, who just launched a million-dollar grant opportunity to four cities in the country for public art,” Willis said, “because he realized while he was mayor of the city of New York that commissioning an artist like Christo to do The Gates (installation) in Central Park would draw hundreds of thousands of people to the city, and that would translate directly to dollars for businesses.”

Willis is working with father-daughter development team Phil Angelides and Megan Norris to come up with art for the McKinley Village development in east Sacramento. Angelides first installed public art in a development 25 years ago with Natoma Station in Folsom. He recalled how vandals later stole a monkey sculpture by Kathleen Kasper Noonan, outraging neighbors. He joined them in putting up a reward for its return, he said, and they got it back.

“Residents had come to use the monkeys as a way to identify where they lived,” he said. “Instead of saying, ‘Turn left at blank,’ people would say, ‘The way you get to my home is, you come down the street and when you see the monkeys, you turn right.’”

Angelides added, “I can’t sit here and tell you that if you invest a dollar in public art, you’ll get return of $1.20, but I can tell you the more we create interesting neighborhoods and public spaces with artworks that are subjects of discussion, it makes Sacramento richer, more attractive and therefore in the long term, in the big sense, more economically strong.”

Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.

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