June 13, 2024

How We Work Against Weather, Vandalism, and Age to Maintain the Scottsdale Public Art Permanent Collection

Workers replace panels on Norie Sato’s Cactus Mirage at McDowell Mountain Aquatic Center.
Photo: Brian Passey.

Scottsdale Public Art, a part of Scottsdale Arts, is responsible for more than just the introduction of new artworks to the city’s Permanent Collection. We’re also tasked with maintaining the collection, which now numbers 160 large-scale works across the city. 

Our staff monitors the state of all these artworks, looking for signs of weather damage, vandalism, and other factors that might alter the appearance of the pieces. It’s important to maintain the art because damage often attracts more damage. “That’s part of the reason we work so diligently to keep the public art looking good,” said Wendy Raisanen, curator of collections and exhibitions for Scottsdale Public Art, who oversees the maintenance and preservation of the collection. 

Many of the works require regular painting, cleaning, or other types of maintenance. Some have instructions from the artists themselves that we are expected to follow to maintain the artist’s original vision for the piece.

The LOVE sculpture by Robert Indiana was repainted earlier this year. Photo: Brian Passey.

Among those artworks is the most famous one in the collection: Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture near Scottsdale Civic Center Library. Raisanen says LOVE must be painted at least yearly—sometimes more frequently—due to wear from people climbing on the sculpture … despite signage that prohibits climbing. 

James Turrell’s Knight Rise is regularly repainted. Photo: Scottsdale Arts.

Another popular artwork, the James Turrell Skyspace Knight Rise, located at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA), also needs yearly painting to maintain the artist’s desired effect. Additionally, the unique design and placement of the Skyspace means that regular spider abatement measures are necessary.

When it comes to painting both LOVE and Knight Rise, we don’t have the option of choosing any random color or even something close to the original. The artists have specified exact colors for repainting both. For Knight Rise, it a special theatrical paint called “super white.” 

Artist specifications may also extend to the color of lights used in the artworks. For example, Curtis Pittman’s Diamond Bloom—which is typically located near Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West but is currently in storage during renovations at the museum—requires lavender lights for one section and sunset orange lights for another. When the artwork is brought out of storage, Scottsdale Public Art will make every effort to relocate Diamond Bloom in a way that matches what Pittman intended with its original placement. It’s just another aspect of honoring the artist’s vision, Raisanen says.

Workers replace panels on Norie Sato’s Cactus Mirage at McDowell Mountain Aquatic Center.
Photo: Brian Passey.

Some renovations are extensive, like the one we recently completed for Norie Sato’s Cactus Mirage at McDowell Mountain Ranch Aquatic Center. Raisanen said it was the first major restoration of the artwork since it was installed in 2007. Due to damage from heat expansion, windstorms, and structural issues, each of the acrylic panels that composed the artwork had to be replaced. Once again, it required a specific color, so we had to order a full run of acrylic in the artist-specified color, which matches the shade of the shallow end of one of the nearby pools. The acrylic was then cut to match the previous panels, each of which weigh between 80 and 90 pounds. 

“Each one is a unique shape,” Raisanen says of the acrylic panels. “When they took down each panel, they marked them and used that as a template for the new ones.”

Repairs to Michael Maglich’s Horseshoe Falls required sourcing of horseshoes from across the country. Photo: Scottdale Arts.

Another upcoming restoration is Michael Maglich’s Horseshoe Falls on the southeast corner of Marshall Way and Indian School Road. Each pillar in the artwork is constructed from a series of stacked horseshoes, and in order to restore the piece, our contractor had to source horseshoes from all over the country to find enough for the job. 

Other recent renovations include: 

  • Repainting of the bridge, underpass, and sculpture bases at Water Mark by Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan, located along Indian Bend Wash at Indian Bend Road. “It was pretty amazing—the difference between the twenty-year-old color and the new,” Raisanen said. 
  • Replacement of glass over Erik Gonzalez’s Visual Puzzles. Although the artwork uses bullet-resistant glass, a vandal still managed to smash it. 

Among the pieces that require quarterly cleanings and maintenance are the bronze sculptures in the collection, including works like the late Ed Mell’s Jack Knife, Patricia Stillman’s Vintage, and Clyde “Ross” Morgan’s Mayor Herbert “Herb” Drinkwater and His Dog, Sadie

George-Ann Tognoni’s The Yearlings, another bronze from this group, recently needed major restoration work when it went into storage a few years ago during renovations at Scottsdale Civic Center, where it is located in the West Paseo. Several of the horses’ legs had become disconnected due to the steel support structures breaking through rust damage on the bronze forms. Now, thanks to modern technology and methods, the sculpture is solid once more, and some details that had been lost are visible again.

George-Ann Tognoni’s The Yearlings was repaired while it was in storage during renovations at Scottsdale Civic Center. Photo: Brian Passey.

Another famous sculpture that has required extensive renovation in the past is Louise Nevelson’s Windows to the West, also located in Scottsdale Civic Center. Because it’s made of weathering steel, it is susceptible to corrosion. But it also attracts bird guano and the associated corrosive effects. More than two decades ago, Raisanen said Windows to the West was shipped back east for extensive restoration work. 

Though regular maintenance work is necessary for weathering steel artworks, those made from stainless steel, like Gary Slater’s Right Angle Variations, don’t need any maintenance unless they are vandalized. 

Other Civic Center artworks are a bit trickier to reach for their regular cleanings. Both Alan “Dale” Wright’s Don Quixote and Abbot Pattison’s Woman and Fish are sited in ponds, which means a small boat must be used to clean and wax them. 

Workers replace panels on Norie Sato’s Cactus Mirage at McDowell Mountain Aquatic Center.
Photo: Brian Passey.

Are you wondering what type of maintenance is required for some of your favorite pieces? Here are some notes on other notable artworks in the collection: 

  • John Randall Nelson’s One-Eyed Jack: this giant white rabbit on the northwest corner of Marshall Way and Indian School Road is cleaned monthly. 
  • Donald Lipski’s The Doors: the stainless steel inside the kaleidoscope-like structure on the southwest corner of Scottsdale Road and Camelback Road is also cleaned monthly. 
  • Paolo Soleri’s Soleri Bridge: the red stripe down the center of the bridge of the Arizona Canal at Scottsdale Road is repainted every other year so it’s ready to mark the annual winter solstice. 
  • Jeff Zischke’s Impulsion: this illuminated equine sculpture at WestWorld is spray-washed a couple of times a year, though it needed repairs by a welder a few years ago due to damage, possibly from someone climbing on the artwork. 

So, the next time you stop to photograph one of your favorite public artworks around Scottsdale, we hope you’ll take a moment to appreciate the work that goes into keeping the artworks beautiful and continuing their creators’ visions. And please encourage others to treat the art with respect! 

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