Tony Smith’s Gracehoper in Louisville, Kentucky
On September 14th and 15th, 2012, VoCA co-hosted in The Power of Public Space, a two-day symposium in Louisville. Working closely with the Louisville Commission on Public Art and the Speed Art Museum, VoCA organized a panel discussion focused on “The Importance of the Artist’s Voice”. Our session was primarily devoted to Gracehoper, a large scale and significant sculpture by Tony Smith, currently located in Louisville’s Waterfront Park. Originally commissioned for the plaza of the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts in downtown, the sculpture was relocated several years ago to a more open and pastoral site along the Ohio River. While crowded and active during many events throughout the year, the site is secluded many days and most evenings, and the sculpture has succumbed to numerous instances of graffiti and damage and subsequently several campaigns of re-painting. Difficult to monitor and protect, how does the artist’s voice come through in a situation where the work is imperiled? Our panel included Charles Venable, the director the Speed Art Museum, Stephen Klein, the president of the Kentucky Performing Arts Center, Marlene Grissom, director of special projects for the Waterfront Development Corporation, Joan Pachner, independent art historian and Tony Smith scholar, Kendra Roth, conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Richard McCoy, conservator of objects and variable art at the Indianapolis Art Museum. Tasked with moderating this session, I think we were able to provide a tremendous opportunity to delve into many difficult issues. Pachner provided a context for the discussion, sharing examples of Smith’s writing and lifetime installation of his work, Klein and Grissom presented the history of the piece and how venue changes had contributed to changes in the object, and Roth and McCoy addressed condition issues and strategies for maintenance. Serious decisions about the future of Gracehoper remain, however new connections and resources were revealed and we were pleased to have been a part of the conversation.
Senior Conservator of Modern Paintings, National Gallery of Art
Board Member, VoCA