Art stumps most locals

Art stumps most locals

Squealing with delight, 16-month-old Mayli Feyh Magda found the interior of Medford's newest art installation the perfect place to play hide and seek.

The Phoenix girl, however, was the only passerby Monday morning who seemed to appreciate the finer points of the three aluminum columns that have graced the front of City Hall since they were unveiled Friday.

Described by some as resembling burned-out trees, they are more simply referred to by the artist, Bill Vielehr, as "Three Rogue Columns."

Mayli's mother, Shannon Magda, wasn't as impressed as her daughter, though she did agree the $47,000 sculpture might be fun for children.

"It looks like a mistake, and they called it art," said the 43-year-old. "If it's supposed to look like logs — why not just have real trees?"

Nancy Jo Mullen, chairwoman for the Medford Arts Commission, said she expects all sorts of reaction to the sculpture, but she believes the columns paid for by tax dollars will grow on people.

"I hope people come to enjoy it as much we did," she said. "We felt we had come across the piece that best represents our city now and into the future."

The sculpture was paid for from a city fund dedicated to public art, meaning that money must go to public art and cannot be used for other city needs.

Mullen said the arts commission looked through the work of 21 artists before settling on Vielehr, whose artwork is showcased in public places in his hometown of Boulder, Colo., and in Aurora, Colo., Bellevue, Wash., Albuquerque, N.M., Flagstaff, Ariz., and Virginia Beach, Va. She said the mayor and City Council also were supportive.

Mullen said during the Friday unveiling 50 local children did rubbings on the columns and others found little details about Bear Creek in one section or a map of the area in another.

"Some people looked at those and appreciated their openness and skyward nature," she said.

Mullen said this isn't the first time she's received negative criticism about art. She said a red sculpture depicting fish in the water across the street from the columns also was criticized at first. The $33,000 sculpture, known as "Salmon Flight," is in the city-owned fountain in front of the Jackson County Justice Building.

A sampling of passersby on Monday indicated most didn't care much for the columns, but thought the moving fish sculpture more appropriate for downtown Medford.

"That's OK," said Medford resident Daniel Young, looking at the red fish. "They say something at least. They go around."

The 60-year-old's thoughts on the columns were decidedly more negative.

"It makes no sense to me whatsoever," he said. "It looks like three pieces of pipe to me."

Young said the columns looked similar to some large, shiny ducts on the roof of City Hall, a sentiment echoed by another passerby.

When he discovered how much the art cost, Young said, "That ain't worth no $47,000. You couldn't get it if you took it to the scrap yard."

A mystified Cindy Teese walked around the sculpture, puzzling over it for a few minutes in the bright morning sun.

"I think it's just another stupid waste of money," judged the 53-year-old Medford woman after a little reflection. "They just look like the cardboard inside giant paper towel rolls."

She appreciated the fish statue a bit more, and said the columns don't look as bad as another sculpture in front of the Justice Building that is more modernistic looking but conjures up an unsavory image for Teese. "As long as they don't have the look of the big butt statue," she said.

As she walked away continuing to look at the columns, Teese grew more mystified.

"I don't get it, and I thought I had good taste," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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