There is a great deal of the Mark Madden entertainment technique in Madison
When the Museum of Modern Art included the U.S.Steel building in its review of developments in world architecture in 1979, it was part of a cluster, six pre-eminent post-World War II U.S. skyscrapers that included the Sears Tower and John Hancock Building in Chicago and the Prudential Building in Boston. The six remain civic landmarks 40 years later and none has a logo tacked on its side because the architects who designed them and the clients who commissioned them did not call for it. The same is true of Pittsburgh’s other great old office buildings (Frick, Union Trust, Gulf, Koppers, Oliver, PPG Place). Respecting the integrity of fine work and seeing it preserved adds to urban vitality, it does not detract from it. Such respect does not preclude putting lighted signs on all manner of building in their neighborhood either -- when it “works.” Both facts are obvious if you visit Boston, New York, Chicago and other vibrant cities of the world that pay attention to these matters.
Youth and vitality are only rationalizations for schlock -- as in “we’ll at least we are trying to do something.” If Madison actually believes the Rogers proposal is “brilliant” and is not merely making an argument, the aesthetic gulf is unbridgeable and we’ll nominate him for the Wildwood, NJ arts commission. His ancillary contention that a statue on a riverside site is going to get more attention than would be possible anywhere else in town is also debatable: Consider the Viet Nam and Korean War memorials, which I am sure bring a tear to his eye every time he takes the family over for a visit. The contrast these days between what we Pittsburghers deem as suitable to honor war dead and almost any of our pre-World War II memorials is embarrassing.
Elitist? Absolutely. That’s what drove CMU to put such care in the placement of its new sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky to cite just one very good and very accessible piece of public art. Let’s have more of that; more Mattress Factories, more Southside Works risk-takers. Pittsburgh is not going to recapture a sense of vitality by jumping at every and all ideas that come down the pike (see the North Shore apartments by the Ninth Street Bridge as Exhibit A). We need the self-confidence to say “no,” which will come only with a recaptured sense of worldliness rooted in actual accomplishment as opposed to hyperbole and a pure heart.
I have a little more to say, in the Comments.