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Rebirth in context
Artist's rendering of Rebirth by Seyed Alavi, sculpture formerly proposed for area near MAX station at SE Park Avenue and McLoughlin Boulevard. Image courtesy TriMet.

Rebirth was the title of a large yellow deer sculpture, designed by artist Seyed Alavi and recommended, then later rejected, for installation in a plaza near the new Park Avenue MAX station on the planned Orange Line between downtown Portland and Milwaukie.

After loud criticism from some nearby residents and members of the public, the project was killed in November 2011, to be replaced by a different piece of public art.

According to The Oregonian, which had published a series of articles ridiculing the project or highlighting it as a possible waste of money, a planned mosaic-tile surface of the statue "proved to be too costly."

"“The form itself was something a lot of people out in the community weren’t happy with in the first place, so once the mosaic piece was taken away, it kind of devalued it,” art committee member Matt Menely of Milwaukie told the newspaper.

The estimated $250,000 cost of the sculpture would have come from the 1.5 percent of the rail civil construction budget, $4 million for the full line, that TriMet board policy requires to be dedicated to public art.


[edit] Planning process

Oakland-based Alavi propsed Rebirth after he was selected by the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Public Art Advisory Committee as one of nine artists among 276 applicants to create art for the rail line. The committee later "approved that concept," according to TriMet Public Art Coordinator Michelle Traver.

Traver said a design contract is typically about 10 percent of the total project cost, or about $25,000.

[edit] Reactions

[edit] At Oak Lodge Community Council, May 2011

Traver said Alavi presented his concept at a May 2011 meeting of the Oak Lodge Community Council.

"There was not a single negative comment out of a room of 40 or 50 people," said Traver, who said she'd been initially wary of public reaction. "We took this as a very positive indicator for this piece in that community."

"A large, stylized deer with a childlike face speaks to the community’s vision of renewal and the proximity of the station to a restored riparian forest," according to a July 2011 summary of public art proposals for the MAX line. "Drawn from many traditions, from Pacific Northwest Coast Native American carvings to colossal roadside sculpture, Rebirth is a monumental icon that creates a link between the natural environment and the commercial strip of McLoughlin Boulevard."

[edit] Online, June and July 2011

The image was posted in June by commentator and TriMet critic Jack Bogdanski on "Maybe the Paul Bunyan statue can kill it and eat it," he wrote.

The blog MAXFAQs dubbed the sculpture "uncanny Bambi," adding: "Maybe part of my negative reaction comes from spending $250,000 on a giant deer with a human face at the same time that fares are going up and buses are falling apart, and poor Dorothy is out of luck after the bond measure failed."

Cora Potter, a Lents resident and public art enthusiast supportive of the proposal, told Portland Afoot in an interview that the image reminded her of "classic illustrations of the legend of Gilgamesh," and that she liked its mixing of the "natural" and human worlds.

"People like to think that nature is away from us, and it kind of mashes it up and confronts you," Potter said. "I think that's good. ... Art is meant to provoke something, a conversation. Even if it's just an internal conversation with yourself. ... Next time you're freaked out by something, maybe ask yourself why."

[edit] In the Oregonian, July 2011

A subsequent article about the proposal in The Oregonian quoted JoAnne Bird of the Island Station neighborhood as saying she was, in the newspaper's phrase, "willing to be challenged by art in a gallery, but wants something she drives by every day to be accessible to any low-brow bypasser."

But Eleanore Hunter, chairwoman of the Oak Lodge Community Council and a member of TriMet's art advisory committee, predicted that the deer would be, as the paper put it, "a great icon for Oak Grove, and can be used as a community space, such as for farmers markets underneath."

It's hard for Oak Grove residents to tell other people exactly where the community is, Hunter suggested.

"It's going to be a thing that's going to help this area get known," Hunter told the paper. "I think it's a brilliant solution to a complex problem."

[edit] Caution from TriMet about initial rendering

rebirth 7 19 11
An initial artist's rendering of the concept.

Traver, TriMet's public art coordinator, said she felt the widely circulated rendering of the project was "almost out of context."

"What you see in that image -- it's a computer-generated image," she said. The sculpture, by contrast, is "an actual three-dimensional object. And that is very, very, very different. It's not going to look like a cartoon out there."

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