Stay of Execution for Robert Irwin’s Public Sculpture in Dallas?

Robert Irwin, Park Portal Piece (Slice) (1981). Photo: Guy Reynolds, courtesy Dallas News.
Robert Irwin, Park Portal Piece (Slice) (1981). Photo by Guy Reynolds.

A public artwork by installation artist Robert Irwin may have a future in Dallas after all. His 1981 sculpture, Park Portal Piece (Slice), was about to meet its end due to the reconfiguring of its home in John Carpenter Plaza. However, new plans for the space, which have the artist’s approval, reincorporate the piece in a new location on the park.

The artwork, featuring a thin, 700-foot-long wall of rusted steel, currently emerges from the sloping lawn between Pearl Street and Cesar Chavez Boulevard, creating a portal to downtown Dallas. As the two streets are realigned, the triangular plazas will be reshaped, stripping the piece of its original context. In light of the situation, the 86-year-old Irwin had given the city permission to destroy the work.

Revamped plans, however, could give the sculpture a second life, along a pedestrian walkway, rather than a road. “Mr. Irwin understands that things change,” Ken Haines, whose firm, Hargreaves Associates, is redesigning Carpenter Plaza, told the Dallas News. “He’s enthusiastic and supportive of trying to reimagine Portal (Slice) within this reconfiguration.”

Dallas’s willingness to go the extra mile to preserve Park (Slice), especially given its history of attracting graffiti and other vandalism, may be a good sign for the future of the city’s other public art commissions. The municipal maintenance budget for public art was eliminated in 2009 (see “Dallas to Remove Public Art Rather Than Pay to Maintain It“). Earlier this year, the government announced plans to remove one beloved local landmark, Tom Orr and Francis Bagley‘s  Wildlife Water Theater (2001), rather than to restore it. Many have rallied to save the lakeside installation, including the Cultural Landscape Foundation (see “Are These 11 American Art Landscapes Worth Saving?“).

Nevertheless, the Carpenter Plaza redesign comes with a hefty $10 million price tag—$307,000 alone for moving the Irwin sculpture. The city currently has no funding available for the project, so regardless of whether or not the current proposal is approved, it will be some years before it comes to fruition; and Park (Slice) will likely weather a stay in temporary storage in the interim.

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