August 6, 2020 | By Tony Wong Palms
Art Experiences on the new St. Pete Pier
. . .
A haiku. . .
See art in plein air
Out and about St. Pete Pier
Meet new residents
Art is always an adventure, whether seeing for the first time or for the hundredth time.
A first-time experience to be had is at the new St. Pete Pier. Opened in July, it features within its 26 acres of varied landscapes a fun arts program with pieces created specifically for its location.
Currently these commissioned pieces are installed midst the sea, shore and sky –
. . . Nathan Mabry’s Myth (Red Pelican), a large red steel plate interpretation of pelicans welcoming visitors at the Pier entrance.
. . . Walking in, pass the Marketplace, is Janet Echelman’s Bending Arc, an ethereal piece suspended over the Family Park lawn.
. . . Continuing further, across from the Pier Plaza lives Xenobia Bailey’s Morning Star, dynamic cosmic shapes in glass mosaic.
. . . And at the Pier’s narrow neck, before widening to the grand vista of Tampa Bay sits Nick Ervinck’s Olnetopia, a splash moment frozen in time.
Starting here, Olnetopia is an interesting title – and a word not found in dictionaries. Perhaps it can mean anything? Breaking it down though, Olne is a village in a province of Belgium, and -topia is Greek suffix for place, as in utopia, or dystopia. With the artist being Belgian, it is only a guess if this contributes to the title’s meaning, or the artwork’s.
Ervinck is interested in the sculptures of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, whose works embodies curves and voids. Both define Ervinck’s piece, his first US commission, which has aptly been described as a drop of liquid splashing upward, or maybe a dancer with up-flinging arms. This splash also contains an echo of the drop of milk photographed by Harold Edgerton with aid of a stroboscope in 1957.
At night, sharp chiaroscuro shapes created by a basic up-lighting scheme are both mysterious and unsettling.
Walking back toward the entrance and passing one of Nathan Mabry’s stray pelicans sitting in front of the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center, we find Xenobia Bailey’s very lovely Morning Star. Set back behind landscaping, visitors can easily walk by without noticing. In our hurried life, who sees subtle beauty?
This cosmic mosaic with circular motifs against a yellow hue background, revolving planets and stars and suns – all made with shimmering glass – tells a big story.
Bailey is known for designing these round shapes, discs, mandalas and circle compositions through crocheting. With the point of a crochet needle, Bailey, a stitch at a time, using small hand movements in rhyme, is multiplying and expanding material and volume into a cosmological wonder, similar to how our universe exploded from a singular point.
The glass mosaic glistens both in sunlight and night spot-lighting. But the Pier management should hire a lighting designer. The two spotlights illuminate unevenly, creating off-center hot spots, leaving large expanses in the dark. An injustice to the piece.
Unlike the light towers designed for Janet Echelman’s Bending Arc. Besides being a totally different style and scale of work, wow. It’s a whole other atmosphere when encountering her magenta cloud electrifying the night. A very Instagrammable experience.
This is in the territory of art like the Chihuly glass sculptures animating spaces around the world. Echelman’s installations are doing the same in cityscapes globally.
The Family Park, whose lawn is landscaped with berms, is a perfect place for visitors to stroll, sit, relax and look up at this Bending Arc any time of the day. In daylight with the Sun replacing the light towers, it could be a fisherman’s net hanging up to be mended, or to dry.
The piece has a wonderful motion waving along with the breeze. Its fluid architecture flows out from two large round openings at the top, to the edges secured on taut guide wires. Looking up with clouds floating above and grass underneath, the blue strips of the net fade into the sky, mesmerizing, like watching waves on the shore.
Finally back to the beginning with Nathan Mabry’s Myth (Red Pelican), a rendering of Florida’s famous bird. Two realistically-scaled pelicans perch on top of the steel plate origami-looking version. A couple more pelicans mosey around on the ground, all in the same deep red paint. Quite odd overall, but similar to the actual eccentric bird.
It would be quite conceptual if a live pelican landed next to this sculpture, making a serendipitous recreation of Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs. One and three pelicans, the connotation and denotation of the bird in the center of the seal of St. Petersburg. Dalí might even find it droll.
So that’s a brief tour of the four artworks permanently installed in the new St. Pete Pier. They fit in and stand out among all the other attractions and activities. It is an exciting start for the Pier’s public arts collection, a dramatic addition to the city’s wider public arts program. Either way, an auspicious beginning for the Pier in spite of the coronavirus.
A monument to the first commercial flight in St. Pete by sculptor Mark Aeling,
will be installed later this year. You can track its progress through the artist’s website, mgasculpture.com.
Find a map and details at