For the People

"I am not interested in shocking the middle class, and I am not afraid of beauty," wrote Oberlin College art professor and sculptor Athena Tacha in 1980. "Rendering art functional or beautiful does not need to entail an artistic compromise--it merely makes art less of an act of self-indulgence."
Tacha's work should be familiar to many Clevelanders, not gallery-goers necessarily, but anybody who's eaten lunch outside in University Circle, or walked a dog past Cleveland State University. Merging--the stepped granite structure in Case's Mather Quadrangle--was inspired by agricultural irrigation landscaping and the shifting of tectonic plates. Half of it is a fountain, while the other half invites people to climb or sit. Tension Arches, on the CSU campus--a series of inverted "Vs" spray-painted red on one side, green on the other--changes color as one walks through it.

"Her work in site sculpture is a most important development in contemporary sculpture because while it connects with the past, it's also for use by people," says art historian Elizabeth McClelland, who's just completed a book on Tacha's work, Cosmic Rhythms. "She wants to involve people in her work."

In the 1960s, land artists like Robert Long and Richard Smithson went off to draw lines through deserts and build spirals best viewed from an airplane. That left room for younger artists--especially women--to take on public projects in urban spaces, says McClelland. The Greek-born Tacha--whose site-specific works recall earlier public art projects, like "the steps down to the Ganges, or an amphitheater in Greece"--was one of those women, says McClelland.

Tacha, now in her sixties, recently relocated to Maryland. But she came back to town recently for the opening of a Beck Center exhibit of her maquettes and drawings, which McClelland calls "little masterpieces." The exhibit, which has the same title as McClelland's book, runs through January 31.

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