To celebrate Pride Month, GSA highlights three contemporary artists who were commissioned by the Art in Architecture program to create artwork in courthouses across the country. LGBTQ+ artists have made significant contributions to contemporary art in the United States, so we’d like to take this opportunity to spotlight three of these artists.
Photo Credit: Heather Rasmussen
For her artwork Yosemite Falls, Catherine Opie divided a large, vertical photograph she created of Yosemite Falls into six horizontal sections. By placing each section on a separate floor, Opie allowed visitors to experience separate views of the larger photograph as individual scenes. When viewed across the open atrium, several sections of the artwork momentarily unite into a grand view of this California landmark, imitating the cascading effect of the waterfall it portrays.
Installed in the soaring atrium of the U.S. Courthouse in Los Angeles in 2016, Yosemite Falls offers different ways of looking that are at once contemplative and exhilarating. Opie described this multifaceted way of viewing:
“These various floors allow for different views of the falls, in the same way that a hiker’s vantage points change when approaching the real falls in the natural environment. You have to roam the building in order to experience the piece. There is not one vantage point where you can see all six panels. You have to experience them by actually experiencing the architecture.”
Photograph by Steve Rosenthal © Historic New England, from the Steve Rosenthal Collection of Commissioned Work at Historic New England
Over his long, prolific career, Ellsworth Kelly created abstract artworks often inspired by real-world observations. Using photographs of hillsides or shadow patterns, Kelly distilled these forms down to their purest shapes by exploring balance, color, and scale.
For his GSA commission, Kelly revisited collages he had made in the 1950s and translated these early studies into a monumental artwork titled The Boston Panels for the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts.
Kelly’s large geometric panels appear as pops of color throughout the building, adding vibrant counterpoints to the architecture’s clean lines and simple palette. In total, twenty-one monochrome panels can be found in seven areas of the building.
After its debut in 1998, the building’s architect, Harry Cobb, observed that it would be impossible to imagine the courthouse without Kelly’s artwork.
Photo credit: Nels Akerlund
In 2011, Tony Feher completed a landscape artwork, whimsically titled Super Special Happy Place, for the Stanley J. Roszkowski U.S. Courthouse in Rockford, Illinois. For the artwork, he placed 104 crabapple trees in a non-repeating diamond grid pattern across the courthouse’s expansive lawn.
Crushed granite pathways snake through the trees, and concrete benches along the paths allow visitors to sit and experience the artwork as it shifts from season to season. In the spring, each tree sprouts colorful pink or white blossoms. By the end of summer, the branches are heavy with fruit. The foliage changes colors in autumn before falling to the ground, leaving the limbs bare except for the crimson crabapples that cling to the branches through the winter.
The crabapple tree is common to the region and seemingly unremarkable. However, Feher’s artwork encourages visitors to consider the simple, dynamic beauty of this commonplace tree. He chose different varieties of crabapple trees to weave a rich tapestry of varied colors and hues as well as shapes and forms.
Describing the trees, Feher admired the fact that “over time they just get to be gnarly, twisty, and funky, and each has its own personality.” The trees were planted in a strict pattern, yet the installation celebrates nature’s intrinsic wildness and unpredictability. As a result, the experience of this artwork changes from year to year, and requires repeated viewings over many seasons to experience its full effect.
These are just a few of the outstanding contributions of the LGBTQ+ community to the arts, and future commissions through GSA’s Art in Architecture program will continue to add to that rich legacy.