Shasti O’Leary Soudant’s proposal for a new public art project on the south face of 95 Perry St. lost by a hair in a public competition to Augustina Droze and Bruce Adams’ mural “Go!”
But her consolation prize wasn’t half-bad: A commission for a eye-popping piece of art to be permanently displayed in the atrium of a new $40 million residential and office development project in a former box factory on Seneca Street.
The new sculpture, a 25-foot bright orange tower called “Weeping Wall,” were unveiled Wednesday in a ceremony also celebrating the completion of the atrium. The work was commissioned by Savarino Properties and the Frontier Development.
Soudant designed it over the summer and Rigidized Metals, the culturally connected Ohio Street company owned by Silo City owner Rick Smith, fabricated it.
The $20,000 piece is made of more than a dozen steel panels. Hundreds of tines have been laser-cut and bent at various angles, so that the surface of the sculpture resembles ruffled goose feathers, shimmering fish scales or cascading water. It will be tough for visitors to the third-floor atrium to ignore.
The undulating column of orange steel was inspired in part by the history of the Hydraulics District where 500 Seneca St. sits, mirroring the district’s use of hydropower.
“There is no better place to make work like this than Buffalo. You can find anything here. You can have anything made here. You can do anything here,” Soudant said on a recent afternoon as a crew put the finishing touches on the installation. “What I love is that every single person who’s walked in here sees something different. They see feathers, they see dragon scales, they see water flowing. That’s the lovely thing about abstraction, because it has that universality.”
Tom Schunk, the fabrication manager at Rigidized Metals, oversaw the creation of the piece according to Soudant’s original CAD drawing, which took about a month. Gazing up at the recently piece and searching for the words to describe it, he settled on this appraisal.
“This is subtle. Subtle, but ‘bam!’” he said.
That description sounded just fine to Soudant, who suggested the piece is meant to be a kind of multi-pronged and multi-tonged hybrid of infinite meanings. The piece shifts as you walk around the building, for example, appearing largely transparent from directly below and totally solid when viewed from the fifth-floor balcony.
“The monumental aspect of it is not an imposition, it’s not like a monolith. It has a very hybrid sensibility, which is a fairly good reflection of the artist who made it,” Soudant said. “I like this idea that something simultaneously can be propulsive and yielding at the same time, that something that has that kind of power can also be hollow.”
For Savarino Vice President Julia Spitz, who oversaw the sculpture’s commission and installation, “Weeping Wall” is part of her company’s commitment to public art not merely as a decorative addition to their projects but as an integral element to a new brand of culturally conscious development.
“We don’t develop a lot of everyday buildings,” Sptiz said. “They deserve something as unique in art as the building itself is. You’re not going to go to a store and buy a print that’s going to do a building like 500 Seneca justice. It’s not neutral. And I think that’s a powerful part of public art, exposing people to real art that makes you think, that makes you wonder, that makes you form an opinion.”
Asked whether she was concerned about her piece taking on the negative connotations of corporate lobby art, which is often thought of as barely distinguishable from the monochromatic architecture and ideological blandness from which it emerged, O’Leary said she wasn’t worried about “Weeping Wall” being ignored.
“I like the presence that a color this powerful has. It’s not a rage color. It’s not a soothing color. It’s a stimulating color. It’s a hunger color. And this looks hungry, and I like that,” she said. “It’s the color of the setting sun. It’s the color of juice. It’s the color of sustenance. There’s just something innately sexy about it to me.”