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American Architectural Foundation Sponsors Public Art in the Federal Triangle Symposium

GSA # 9481

April 23, 1998
Contact: Hap Connors (202) 501-1231
Eryl Platzer (202) 626-7371


WASHINGTON, DC - George Gurney, PhD, Curator of Sculpture at the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, and Norman Koonce, President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Architectural Foundation, will join artists Martin Puryear, Stephen Robin, and Keith Sonnier in a symposium on "Public Art in the Federal Triangle."

The symposium is sponsored by the American Architectural Foundation and will be held Thursday, April 30, from 10 to 11:30 am in the auditorium of the new Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center was designed by architect James Ingo Freed of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. It completes the enclave of government buildings built in the 1920s and 1930s in downtown Washington, DC, known as the Federal Triangle. The building also completes the redevelopment of Pennsylvania Avenue begun under the Kennedy Administration.

In the spirit of a 143-year-old tradition of incorporating art in American government buildings, the U.S. General Services Administration's (GSA) Art-in-Architecture program commissioned Puryear, Robin, and Sonnier to create artworks for the Ronald Reagan Building's 125-foot high atrium and adjacent three-acre Woodrow Wilson Plaza. Today, more than 200 GSA-commissioned works of art enrich Federal buildings throughout the country.

The nomination and selection process for commissioning art in federal buildings follows guidelines established over the past 30 years. GSA allocates up to one half of one percent of the estimated construction cost of a federal building for works of art. GSA invites community representatives, art professionals and the project architect to serve on a panel to make recommendations concerning the type and location of the artwork for a particular building and to nominate artists for GSA's consideration. The panel for the Ronald Reagan Building reviewed over 250 artists' submissions.

Artist Martin Puryear's Bearing Witness is a 40-foot-high sculpture in hammer-formed bronze plate installed in the grand, circular courtyard in front of the Woodrow Wilson Center, just west of the plaza's 13th Street axis. Puryear said, "In my work, I aim for a point where organic form - or forms which suggest nature and organic processes - can coexist with forms which are clearly cultural. In a cultural sense, my work often grows out of the history and process of hand-making in a variety of materials."

Stephen Robin is the creator of Federal Triangle Flowers, a cast-aluminum sculptural work consisting of two parts, a single stem rose and a lily. According to Robin, the flowers are used here as they have been used traditionally in the history of ornamentation. He said that they are devices, infinitely variable, used for "defining boundaries and affecting the awareness of transitions." The modeling combines Beaux Arts and Art Deco influences, a reference to the transition from one style to the other in the architectural ornamentation of the Federal Triangle. While the flowers share characteristics of both styles, the emphasis in the lily is horizontal and flowing; in the rose, it is diagonal and staccato.

Route Zenith, a monumental (30 feet wide by 49 feet high) neon and glass sculpture for the atrium's eastern end, was created by artist Keith Sonnier. Describing his work, Sonnier noted that zenith is defined as the point in the celestial sphere vertically above a given position or observer. "Like the point in the sky that allows sailors to orient themselves on the sea and astronomers to determine the movement of celestial bodies, Route Zenith establishes a microcosmic environment in the vast atrium. It functions as a meeting place of people, energy, and dynamism," he said.

A fourth work of art, the Oscar S. Straus Memorial Fountain with sculpture by Adolph Alexander Weinman, was originally installed on the site in 1947. A tribute to Oscar Straus, diplomat and Secretary of Commerce and Labor, the memorial consists of a three-tiered fountain and two bronze sculptures, Liberty of Worship and The Voice of Reason. The memorial has been restored and returned to its original location on 14th Street. A member of the Straus family will participate in the discussion.