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Poll: what to do with Richard Serra’s ‘Twain’?

April 4, 2010 Downtown, Parks, Sunday Poll 23 Comments

Citygarden, located in two blocks of the Gateway Mall, is an unquestionable hit with anyone who has seen the 2-block (8th, Market, 10th, Chestnut) sculpture & botanical garden.

ABOVE: Citygarden (left) and Twain (right), July 2009

But the block to across 10th Street to the West is a very different story!  ‘Twain’ by Richard Serra was installed in 1982, a decade earlier than the two blocks (now containing Citygarden) were razed.

ABOVE: Plaque for Twain is in the grass next to 11th Street.
ABOVE: Plaque for 'Twain' is in the grass next to 11th Street.

Art is something you should love or hate and ‘Twain’ manages to make sure viewers have one of those reactions, no in the middle.

I have my feelings which I’ll share on Wednesday April 14, 2010 when I show the final results of this week’s poll: “Which best describes your thoughts on the Gateway Mall block w/Richard Serra’s ‘Twain’ sculpture?” I phrased the question the way I did to get at feelings on the block as a whole as well as the art itself.  The answers provided are:

  • Love Twain, don’t change that block at all.
  • Get rid of Twain ASAP.
  • Like Twain and the minimal surroundings, just needs new sidewalks, etc
  • Like Twain but the block is too bare, needs more art & activities.
  • I don’t hate Twain but I’m not crazy about it either.
  • Unsure/no opinion.

And you can make your own answer if you like. The poll software will randomize the answers so please read them before voting.  Share your thoughts below on why we should keep or remove Twain.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "23 comments" on this Article:

  1. philbarron says:

    I've always felt that Twain – an interesting piece in of itself – is simply in the wrong venue. Had this same reviled installation been originally placed in Laumeier Sculpture Park, it would likely be valued (even lauded) lauded today as an environmental work. I think we could do right by both Serra and the city by relocating Twain to Laumeier and expanding Citygarden into that space.

  2. Jason Wagner says:

    I would agree with Phil on the sculpture being a good addition to Laumeier.. If it were to stay I'm not sure how you would integrate it at first blush, but I'm sure it could be done to blend into the Citygarden idea. Leaving it like it is however is should not be an option. Btw- poll would not work from my phone for whatever reason…

  3. Sal Alatorre says:

    Get rid of Twain. Rusted old mess. Meaningless. Also take out the Gateway One building. It is not part of a concept of a “mall” from the Old Court House to Tucker (and beyond of course to Union Station).

    Keep up the good work, Steve

  4. JZ71 says:

    Basically agree with Phil. This is a cerberal piece and context is critical. Add in that the physical context has changed over the the last quarter century and maintenance has been spotty, and it has become difficult for many people to appreciate it. The “easiest” fix may be simply replacing some of the worn grass with some type of appropriate hardscape. Adding other pieces could also work, but, again, context is critical, both on this block and relation to the evolving surounding blocks.

  5. toby says:

    I think that Twain is wonderful, but the City failed the sculpture (and the woman who donated it) by disrespecting it with crappy surroundings. Art requires context, and Twain has none. Expand City Garden one more block west and it would be viewed in a more positive light.

  6. arkiben says:

    It's not one of Serra's strongest pieces. It is one of his most minimal, which is saying something. But it is Serra, so it's worth keeping… somewhere. A lot of people knee-jerk criticize it as meaningless, etc. I don't agree, I've always liked it, in theory. Somewhere I once heard Ms Pulitzer talk about the view “framing” the city through the cracks. The views are interesting. I've always been able to stand it for about 15 minutes. Its like a chore dropping by and “appreciating” Twain, like visiting your great aunt. My thinking is: is it so good that Saint Louis is willing to give this one prime block over to Twain in perpetuity? It's had a good run, time to decommission and give something else a try. It's been politely tolerated long enough that Saint Louis can try something else without looking like a bumpkin who “doesn't get” modern art.

  7. Ryan says:

    I think the mall is already empty enough. There's plenty of other available lots for other activities, so removing something existing seems counterproductive, almost no matter what it is. The fact that it's a sculpture by a renowned artist makes removing it even less of a good idea in my mind–in the past a major fault of St. Louis has been failure to appreciate what we have, whether it's knocking down “gaudy” Victorian houses, “non-historic” mid-century modern buildings, clearing neighborhoods for highways, whatever. I worry about us repeating the same mistake here (“rusty old metal”), rather than taking what we have and trying to incorporate it into the fabric of the evolving city. Twain was meant to be interacted with, and right now it's mostly ignored. I'd like to see more beautification of that block, for example with well-maintained landscaping, as well as paths through the sculpture to promote the interaction intended. Right now it has a very isolated and abandoned quality–dead grass, seemingly random trees obscuring it from the sides, no easy identification of what it is, and certainly no indication that you're allowed to walk through it, let alone that walking through it is key to appreciating its value. I also don't like the idea of sending it to Laumeier. I believe Serra has said himself all his installations are site-specific, and Twain is either where it currently is or nowhere. And why would we send parts of our heritage out to the county? Leave it where it's easily accessible to many people, the heart of a hopefully thriving downtown, only blocks from the 8th and Pine metro stop.

    • equals42 says:

      Because it is so minimal that no one knows it is art. Perhaps in Manhattan or some other overbuilt landscape it would have some merit as a contrast to its surroundings. In the current context where there are plenty of empty lots and vacant buildings, it is lost among the detritus of downtown. It has run its course and should be moved. The site specificity argument seems weak as the environs around the sculpture have changed and will change. If there was a great view to a particular urban landscape in 1982 it is likely changed or will.

  8. G-Man says:

    Move it to Laumeier; expand Citygarden into this block.

  9. ctll033 says:

    I like the “move it to Laumeier” option or perhaps even the Art Museum grounds, but as it is now, it's an acid commentary on the rusting, decayed mess that downtown St. Louis has become and Citygarden doesn't need the negativity.

  10. Pam says:

    I like the Laumeier idea as well, there it can be retired/appreciated in its glory in the “Hall of Fame” of sculptures. I'd love to hear what Serra would have to say about the idea of moving it…

  11. meddarnell says:

    Nobody has the political will or the intestinal fortitude to get this piece of 'crap' sculpture off of the St. Louis landscape. Grossman is waiting for this junkyard art at much less than a $1/lb. What a disgrace that the city was so hard-up, to even allow such foolishness to embellish the streetscape on the mall strip of all places.

  12. Ryan says:

    Here's a link with a little background on Twain and some other controversial sculptures in our fair city: http://stlouis.missouri.org/citygov/parks/parks

    I don't see expanding CityGarden west conflicting at all with the idea of leaving Twain where it is. The best part about CityGarden, to me, is that it promotes interaction and movement through the space. If the paths weren't so carefully laid out I think it would be just as dead as the Twain block. If we design the rest of the Twain block to promote the same interactive experience, I think people will appreciate it much more.

    • Kara7 says:

      I agree with this. I like Twain and I like it's location. It would be great if the center path in CityGarden continued through the street and onto the block with Twain. The path could even continue around and through Twain too, encouraging people to walk into the center. Perhaps a plaque about the sculpture and Richard Serra is in order also.

  13. Kevin Barbeau says:

    The results so far are pretty telling, aren't they?

    There's a place for sparse (some would say bleak/barren/ugly) interpretive/reflective art and I'm not so sure a city's main thoroughfare is that place. Famous city artwork is almost always historic or inspiring or, as is the case of in CityGarden, interactive. It urges onlookers to talk about it and recommend it and take pictures with it. Twain, despite being conceived as an interactive experience, doesn't do that.

    No amount of art appreciation classes could convince me that that almost-triangle is or can be an attribute for the Gateway Mall. And that's really the deciding factor for Twain. It discourages activity. I take that back — gussy up the edges and drop a shallow reflecting pool in its center and maybe it can become useable…but isn't that as much of an insult, if not more, to Serra's 'sculpture' as its complete removal would be?

  14. equals42 says:

    One or the other. Open mall or more buildings. The mall doesn't really come together as a concept with Gateway One.

    • Ryan says:

      I agree long-term with getting rid of Gateway One, but it's low on my priority list. Finish the rest of the mall, talk with and evaluate options for residents of Gateway One (I've heard it's one of the most occupied office spaces in downtown), and have an iron-clad plan for what do with the businesses and space before doing anything. I think getting rid of Gateway One now would be biting off more than we can chew.

  15. Fairview says:

    It fails in the context it's in. Move it.

  16. Zundo says:

    Everyone I have talked to considered the sculpture a failed piece. No one stops by to look at the sculpture and it is in a terrible location. The people who would be disappointed if this were moved would be the homeless people who set up living quarters there. Not that they should not be considered.

    Personally I respect Serra, but this is one of the pieces I would want rid of if I were him. Its time to mark a new change in the history of St. Louis and what better way than to remove a piece of weathering steel from the downtown.

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