The installation in 1969 of "Aquarius" symbolized the dawning of a new age for public art in downtown. It is the first work commissioned under the Community Redevelopment Agency's percent for art policy, which requires one percent of the development cost be earmarked for public art. The piece was also the first totally abstract sculpture installed in downtown. And, it was downtown's first outdoor mobile, and remains to this day, the only one that moves by air currents.
Connecticut General Insurance, developers of the adjacent 40 story building for Union Bank, requested the Community Redevelopment Agency accept a three-acre park designed by Garrett Eckbo for the roof of the garage as their percent-for-art requirement. With its esplanade of coral, rubber and jacaranda trees surrounding a sculptured island of grass and water,(1) the park is one of the best designed open spaces in downtown. Unfortunately, its location on the roof of the garage isolates it from the surrounding city and it remains largely undiscovered and underused.
Rather than accept the park alone as fulfilling the percent-for-art requirement, the Community Redevelopment Agency insisted that a sculptural piece be added. The local architects for the project, Albert C. Martin and Associates, invited Jerome Kirk to design a mobile for the park after commissioning him in 1968 to execute a large mobile at a facility they designed for TRW.
Kirk created a model of the Union Bank park to determine the work's proportions, and also created an aluminum model of the sculpture to obtain the developer's approval for the design. "Aquarius" was originally scheduled to sit in one of the park's shallow pools. However, after the building's principal architects, Harrison & Abramovitz in New York City, requested the stainless-steel mobile be raised on a column and installed in a paved area of the plaza, Albert C. Martin and Associates selected a new location for the work. Kirk prepared templates for the forms, which were cut at U.S. Steel, and designed a complex ball-and-socket mechanism to allow movement. The wind spreads the triangular shaped panels like birds in flight circling around an upward sweeping pedestal.
Although Kirk named the work after his son's astrological sign (the name of Kirk's son is chiselled in the base of the work but cannot be seen because it is buried under concrete), the title may now be interpreted as a reminder of the era in which it was dedicated. The 1960s was a time of political and social change. Jim Crow laws supporting racial segregation in the South were swept away, unleashing a process of cultural liberation continuing today with vanishing barriers against racial and ethnic minorities, women, and gays and lesbians. As the old order disappeared, a new era of love, symbolized by the constellation "Aquarius" arrived. Representing the new age, the cast of the quintessential musical of the period, "Hair," appeared uninvited and unannounced at the dedication, and made the ceremony an unforgettable blend of hope, symbolism and reality. As the canvas was slowly pulled away and the abstract mobile unveiled, the cast led the invited dignitaries in the classic song from the show, "The Age of Aquarius."(2)
Kirk thought the size of "Aquarius" was appropriate for the pool it was originally supposed to sit in, but he felt the sculpture is lost in the plaza and should have been at least twice as large and painted red to enhance its presence.(3) He also hoped the stainless steel would enhance the appearance of the work in sunlight, but unfortunately "Aquarius" is cast in shadows for much of the day.
Footnotes:1 "Pilgrim's Progress" by Garrett Eckbo in Modern Landscape Architecture: A Critical Review, edited by Marc Treib, the MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, c. 1993, p. 211.
2 Interview of Jerome Kirk by Michael Several, October 18, 1985.
The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, February 1999.
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