Plan to remove ‘hazardous’ artwork in historic Des Moines park sparks opposition

  • The Des Moines Art Center has announced plans to remove an artwork created in 1996 from a historic city park.
  • The decision to remove the artwork comes at a cost of $2.6 million in repairs and ongoing maintenance costs, which the art center claims it cannot afford.
  • The work had deteriorated to a dangerous level, and the art center decided to close it off and remove it.

A Des Moines arts organization is preparing to remove a landmark piece of art located along a pond in a historic city park. This surprised the New York artist who created the work decades ago and led to fierce opposition from other artists and local residents.

The decision to remove the work from Greenwood Pond, a series of walkways, shelters, and viewing areas designed by artist Mary Miss, called “Greenwood Pond: Double Site,” has outraged arts advocates across the country, and the This surprised local residents who were used to walking around the area. But the Des Moines Art Center, which is overseeing the production, said the largely wooden structure requires $2.6 million in repairs and future maintenance will cost millions more.

Art Center Director Kelly Baum said demolition will begin this spring because there is no way to raise enough money to pay for the work.

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“It’s difficult, it’s challenging, and it’s very disappointing for me, for the board, for the staff, for the city, and for Mary,” Boehm said.

Part of a piece called “Greenwood Pond: Double Site.” Photographed on February 25, 2024 in Des Moines, Iowa. The Des Moines Arts Center plans to remove a nearly 30-year-old piece of art located along a pond in a historic city park. The decision to remove the piece, which consists of a series of walkways, shelters and viewing areas, has outraged arts advocacy groups across the country. (AP Photo/Scott McFetridge)

This decision surprised Miss, who had considered the permanent exhibition, completed in 1996, to be the high point of her long career as a land artist. In land art, artists use land formations and natural features such as rocks and plants to create works.

Although the demolition looks significant, Miss said she thinks the construction will somehow be preserved.

“I would be shocked if it was just torn off,” Miss said. “It doesn’t deserve that. People don’t deserve that to happen.”

In the 1980s, the art center invited Ms. Miss, a world-renowned land artist, to propose a permanent installation, and she created a space in the 130-year-old Greenwood Park, just down the hill from the art center. , proposed a thorough renovation of the widely loved but aging pond. The park is nestled between the capital’s most luxurious neighborhoods and connects to larger parks and miles of walking trails.

After talking with neighbors, art patrons, gardening club members, and naturalists, Miss designed Greenwood Pond: Double Site on a 6.5-acre (2.6-hectare) strip of waterfront property. The work, which took six years to complete, allows people to immerse themselves in the wetland with numerous viewing spots, from sunken walkways with eye-level water to elevated platforms overlooking the pond. .

The work has received national acclaim, and students of landscape art and architecture are currently studying the site to understand how Myss was able to fuse wooden buildings with the natural environment. I am.

The piece was constructed of metal mesh, concrete, and visibly treated wood that has deteriorated over the years in Iowa’s freezing winters and hot, humid summers. The art center paid for the restoration in 2015, but nearly a decade later announced that engineering studies had found the work to be dangerously deteriorated in places.

Last month, the center blocked access to some of the works, and shortly thereafter notified Misu that it would remove everything.

Miss said the work clearly needs restoration, but the contract with the art center states that “Greenwood Pond: Double Sight” is a permanent work and will not be demolished after 30 years. He said that it was clearly stated that there was no such thing. She also questions how the arts center allowed the building to become dilapidated, how much it would cost to repair it, and why it has not started a fundraising campaign to fund the necessary repairs. presented.

Misu asked the art center to release a technical report detailing the problems and repair costs.

Boehm said the center does not release internal documents.

Numerous artists, organizations, and Des Moines residents joined forces with Miss to demand that the art center halt its plans to demolish the work. Stephanie Daggett Joyner and her husband, David Joyner, who live about a mile from the pond, are helping organize local opposition to the removal of her work, including launching a website. .

Daggett-Joyner said she would consider the work’s removal a personal loss.

“I think it’s really wonderful in the summer with the flowers and the prairie and the birds. It’s fun for so many senses,” she said. “It gives you a sense of peace.”

RJ Tulsi, who was at the pond with his two young children, said one of the reasons his family lives in this neighborhood is because of the proximity to the park.

“You can see ducks here. You can also see frogs, turtles and various birds such as red-winged harriers and black doves,” Tulsi said. “The idea of ​​having a ton of construction coming in and taking this down is unfortunate.”

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The Cultural Landscape Foundation, a Washington-based education and advocacy organization, has made preservation of Miss’s Greenwood Pond work a priority, providing information to other artists and garnering media attention. Later this month, the group will host an online program that will bring together land-based artists to discuss the vulnerability of such work.

Charles A. Birnbaum, president and CEO of the foundation, said the work is a milestone in the land art movement. The role of mistakes in this field is especially noteworthy because most of the early land artists were men, Birnbaum said, making the potential loss in Des Moines even more alarming.

“What we are seeing is a landscape that is malnourished, a landscape that is not being cared for, a landscape that is underserved, and then being blamed for not improving itself. That’s the thing,” he says.