The moment is over for Austin’s most misunderstood public artwork.
At its Dec. 10 meeting, the Austin City Council voted to approve a recommendation from the Arts Commission to deaccession Carl Trominski’s “Moments” due to its deteriorated condition.
The conceptual artwork was installed in 2003 along the Lamar Boulevard underpass, between Sandra Muraida Way and Fifth Street. It’s an unusual spot in the cityscape for an artistic gesture, and at the time of its creation, it marked an adventurous departure for Austin’s public art program.
Trominski, then an emerging architect, envisioned reflective rectangular blue panels along the underpass walls, visual markers meant to punctuate the movement of traveling in a car along the roadway as it dips below grade and under a railroad bridge. Solar lights illuminated the stretch of road under the bridge with a cool blue light, and a color block pattern was painted along the underpass walls, subtle shades of blue and green, would suggest the impression of being underwater.
“Moments” remains Trominski’s only foray into public art. And yet the artwork never really had its moment.
Almost immediately after it was installed vandals stole the solar lights which were then never replaced. Likewise, the very subtle pattern of painted color blocks became a graffiti magnet, and the city’s solution to mitigating the tagging was to cover it with grey paint, obliterating the original design in the process. What wasn’t painted over faded and peeled.
Indeed, the city’s lack of funding for the maintenance of its public artworks has also meant “Moments” signature reflective blue panels became dull and shabby. One panel fell off altogether and was never replaced.
Other public artworks deaccessioned by the city due to their poor condition include “Karst Circle” at Austin Fire Station 43/EMS Station 31 on Escarpment Boulevard; “LAB” along the Lance Armstrong Bikeway; “Bicentennial Fountain” at the entrance to Vic Mathias Shores across from the Long Center; and the Republic Square Fountain which no longer exists but had been located at Republic Square Park. (The latter two pieces had been donated to the city before its Art in Public Places Program (AIPP) was established in 1985.)
“Moments” mostly disappeared from the public’s conscious soon after its installation. But curiosity about the blue panels always percolated now and again, often sparking the predictable sarcastic local news coverage.
Then in 2018, artist Laurie Frick created what was the best art intervention ever to happen to public art in Austin. Under an initiative launched by AIPP to invite re-imagining of existing public art, Frick created “Data Tells a Story,” a brilliant blue mural along both sides of the underpass.
Colorful, drippy lines undulated across a brilliant turquoise background, each a representation of Austin tourist statistics. One side of the three-block-long mural charted the reason why people visit Austin, the other side charted what people do during their visit. And in a clever move, Frick covered Trominski’s blue panels with colorful fabric.
Frick’s wildly-popular piece was extended several times beyond its initial year-long presentation. It was only in September this year that Frick removed the fabric covers from the blue panels and painted over her stripes. (The underpass walls remain the vibrant turquoise.) Since then, the Downtown Austin Alliance commissioned artist Sadé Lawson to create mural on one wall of the underpass.
Now that “Moments” has been taken off the AIPP collections list, it comes under the purview of the Austin Public Works Department. Discussions to date have centered on removal of the panels and recycling the material.