public art

In your travels through the Alamo City, chances are you’ve seen a school of fish oddly out of place underneath the 1-35 bridge near the Pearl Brewery, or the bright orange “Torch of Friendship” sculpture downtown near Alamo Plaza… public art in San Antonio is ready to been seen.

From the “Can’delier” hanging in the Convention Center lobby to the mosaic tiles adorning the trolley car stations throughout downtown, public art installations both impress and inspire, but you need to know where to find them.

Entrenched in lush, tropical landscaping and waterfalls, the Museum Reach of the Riverwalk, is home to 11 public art installations. Under the I-35 Bridge, 25 giant fish are waiting to greet you as you stroll the area of the river that begins at The Pearl Brewery and continues until the Lexington Street bridge. But don’t look for these fish in the water. You’ll find this unique installation-aptly entitled “F.I.S.H”-high above the river, suspended from underneath the bridge. Designed by Philadelphia-based artist Donald Lipski, each replica of the long-eared sunfish, a real-life native to the river, measures seven feet in length.

Another must-see along the Museum Reach is Carlos Cortes’ Faux Bois (false wood) grotto and waterfall. The structure stands three-stories high and is located between the Camden and Newell Street bridges. The cave inside the grotto features a staircase that takes you into the jaws of a giant carving of a jaguar head. Complete with stalagmites and stalactites, the grotto offers benches, a picnic area and recessed lighting that illuminates the many hand-carved artist “follies” in the evening.

As impressive as the collection of art along this scenic part of the river is during the day, many of the installations are illuminated from within, granting visibility at night from the street level.

Scattered throughout downtown, public art installations feature cultural inspiration set against the backdrop of some of the city’s most prominent landmarks. Just a few feet from the Tower of Americas, the grottos lining the exterior wall of the Convention Center that faces the Hemisphere Park feature a collection of paintings, mosaics and sculptures by various artists. Tucked inside each of the seven grottos, abstract and literal artwork enriches the park with scenic murals and lively sculptures.

The “Light Channels” installations, best viewed at night, light up the bridges underneath Houston and Commerce streets with changing patterns of multi-colored LED lights. These colorful corridors are the work of Bill FitzGibbons, whose intent was to “transform an urban barrier into a passage that welcomes visitors.”

Downtown San Antonio isn’t the only place to immerse yourself in public art installations. A trip to the airport, a public library or a city park can also be an adventure in art.

First-time visitors to San Antonio get their first glimpse at the city’s public art installations right off their flight with “The Gate Portals,” by local artist Cesar Martinez. The portals, which are located in Terminal A, greet visitors with vibrant glass and ceramic mosaic murals that celebrate the city’s rich culture and history. The murals, found in Gates 2 through 15, depict local favorite scenes and events, such as the Riverwalk, Sunken Gardens and Fiesta.

Public libraries and playgrounds also showcase many of the city’s permanent public art installations. The surface area of the playground at Arnold Park in the city’s Southside boasts colorful depictions of butterflies and turtles. UTSA professor Katie Pell was part of the project.

On the grounds of the John Igo Library on the city’s northwest side stands “Windmill Signifier” by James Hetherington. Reaching high above the library, this 40-foot steel structure is a replica of an antique farm windmill intertwined with a sleek, modern wind turbine.

No journey through the city’s eclectic collection of art installations would be complete without a visit to the Central Library, located downtown. The library’s impressive art collection begins with the “Blue Room.” The room, lit in blue neon, is the work of Stephen Antonakos and offers patrons a serene contrast to the busy city pace outside.

“Fiesta Tower,” an eye-popping 26-foot glass sculpture graces the second floor Central Public Library atrium. The freestanding tower boasts over 900 individual swirling tubes of colorful hand-blown glass put together by renowned artist Dale Chihuly. The structure was commissioned in 2003 to celebrate the library’s centennial.

The library, a piece of work itself, is home to many other works of art. A 36-foot mural by Jesse Trevino depicts famous San Antonio landmarks and a mosaic-tiled cow, and was donated by the students of the Jefferson High School fine arts program.

So, whether you’re running errands around town or looking for free entertainment, San Antonio’s array of public art is well worth investigation. The next time you’re looking for something to do, try playing tourist in your own city and discover how public art installations can transform an ordinary afternoon into cultural, whimsical and historical adventures that are sure to capture the imagination.

For more information on San Antonio’s public art installations, visit www.publicartsa.com.

Related Stories

More from Paisano1

Editorial Board

At the University of Missouri, real change happened — but only when loss of university revenue was threatened. Missouri student…

More In Arts_and_life

Jose Chapa Web Editor

Living with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) has been a very difficult challenge for me. I, and the 30,000 other people in…