By now, it's barely recognizable as a piece of art: an eight-foot-tall ribbon of rusted steel scrawled with obscene graffiti, running through an obscure stretch of grassland on the eastern edge of downtown. It fades into the background now, ignored by commuters and passersby.
That wasn't the original vision when Robert Irwin, a rather famous installation artist, unveiled the piece in 1981 after receiving a commission from the Southland Corporation (e.g. 7-Eleven) with an assist from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Irwin, a former Guggenheim fellow who would soon become the first artist to receive a five-year MacArthur Fellowship, called it "Portal Park Piece (Slice)," and that's what it was meant to be: a portal. An entrance to downtown.
"That no longer exists," Irwin told Unfair Park this morning from Austin, where he's working on a new installation. Now, he says, the portal piece is just a hunk of "leftover steel."
That's why he's OK with the city's plan to remove the sculpture. A landscape architect helping draft the city's vision for downtown's parks contacted him a while back about a vision for a revamped Carpenter Plaza that didn't include the portal piece, and Irwin gave his blessing.
"I went to take a look at it to make sure it was obsolete. It hadn't been taken care of, obviously," he says, referring mainly to the graffiti.
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But the main issue is that, thanks to the realignment of freeway exits, Carpenter Plaza is no longer a portal, just an obscure patch of grass.
"This one had a kind of pointed reason," he says. that's the only thing that made it make sense. If its gone, then its gone."
"Portal Park Piece" is likely stay put for now, at least until the city secures funding for the new downtown parks. When that will be is anyone's guess, but Irwin's not terribly concerned. He came to the realization long ago that sometimes, his work just wasn't meant to last.
"When you do these things all over like I have go to sites sometimes they get better and they improve and they wear well and sometimes they don't," he says. "The world changes."