Monday, January 22, 2018

Warm weather skating, and playing art detective

Yesterday's high temperature was a whopping 60°F. So naturally, it was the perfect day to hit an outdoor ice skating rink. Seriously, it was.

There are a number of outdoor rinks in the area, but for this adventure we trekked into DC and visited the one in the National Gallery of Art's sculpture garden. If the weather wasn't enough of a draw, the surrounding buildings and sculpture sealed the deal. This is truly a wonderful location to casually grab some skate time.

After getting our fill on the rink, we ducked out of the park to buy ice cream from a nearby food truck. And then we did a quick walk-through the sculpture garden. This one piece caught our eye:

Besides the hulking nature of the sculpture, there was it's name: Aurora. We put our heads together and could only come up with two things related to this name: a Disney princess and something having to do with light (as in Aurora Borealis).

A quick Google search didn't turn up much in the way of help. This archived post describes the work as such:

Aurora is a tour de force of design and engineering. Its sophisticated structural system distributes eight tons of steel over three diagonal supports to combine massive scale with elegance of proportion. Several of the linear elements converge within a central circular hub and then explode outward, imparting tension and dynamism to the whole.

'Tension' and 'dynamism' are great and all, but what does it mean? And why associate hulking, rusted metal with light?

Our first clue came from this line of the description: "The title, Aurora, comes from a poem about New York City by Federico García Lorca."

That poem can be found here and it's perhaps not the nicest portrayal of New York. Here's the first two verses:

The New York dawn has
four columns of mud
and a hurricane of black doves
that paddle in putrescent waters.

The New York dawn grieves
along the immense stairways,
seeking amidst the groins
spikenards of fine-drawn anguish.

It doesn't get any cheerier from there. And in Spanish, the language the poem was written in, the first verse reads:

La Aurora de Nueva York tiene
cuatro columnas de cieno
y un huracán de negras palomas
que chapotean las aguas podridas.

There it is, 'Aurora.'

This article describes what the poet saw when he spent time in New York, which explains why he'd write a poem that highlighted New York's gritty (to be kind) side.

With this 'Auora' in mind, the sculpture certainly makes more sense. The hulking girders, and they chaos they invite, do indeed belong in a rough and tumble New York dawn. While we may not exactly know what the artist was trying to say, I think we're now on the right wavelength.

One final twist, though. The current sculpture garden description of the work includes this addition:

The steel forms a letter "k": the artist has said the work is a portrait of his wife, Kate.

Having read the poem Aurora one has to wonder how this sculptor truly sees his wife. Ouch.

Next time we have a crazy warm day in DC, take some time to hit the rink and the sculpture garden. There are still plenty of art mysteries to untangle.

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