While working on a story about an underground skate park/street-art gallery that’s about to go underground for real, I happened upon another bit of underpass art that struck me as a bit underwhelming.
“Water Pylons,” which consists of 18 pylons painted blue where the Southeast Freeway crosses New Jersey Avenue SE, cost a total of $50,000 — $25,000 from the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities (read: D.C. taxpayers) and another $25,000 from the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District (read: businesses and landlords in the neighborhood surrounding the Navy Yard).
Unfortunately, this expensive paint job didn’t hold up to the elements and began peeling after just a few months.
“There may have been too much humidity, or perhaps rain interfered with the drying of the paint,” said Claire Schaefer Oleksiak,
head former deputy executive director of the Capitol Riverfront BID.
Robert Kent Wilson, the artist behind the project, got his contractors to repaint the peeling columns for free last month. The result still seems to fall a bit short of expectations. Water Pylons was supposed to be a “modern representation of water that announces New Jersey Avenue, SE, as a gateway to the Capitol Riverfront community,” according to Wilson’s proposal. “The space will take on a one-of-a-kind feel,” it says.
To see if I was just being critical, I pointed out the project to several passersby by, all of whom seemed equally underwhelmed.
“I walk by it everyday and never noticed,” said Frank, a 29-year-old Navy Yard Resident. “They should put a plaque on it so people know its art.”
“I can’t believe they paid $50,000 for that,” added Erik, 35, another Navy Yard resident who wouldn’t tell me his last name.
The original plans for the overpass were a bit grander, with undulating fabric giving the underpass a wave-like feel. But it was too difficult to get approval from the city’s transportation department for something that might affect the underpass’s clearance, Oleksiak said.
It also appears that plans for a dedication ceremony were scrapped. But Water Pylons may have its moment eventually — the Capitol Riverfront BID will soon add to the installation. “We are going to add wrapping to the fencing and improve lighting to create a gateway into the Navy Yard neighborhood,” Oleksiak said.
There’s no cost estimate yet.