John Wooden sculpture awkwardly earns national attention

November 20, 2012
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For months I've had "Write about the downtown John Wooden sculpture" on my blog to-do list. And for months I've put it off.

Part of the Georgia Street makeover, the sculpture intends to celebrate the great basketball coach and inspirational Hoosier legend. It may well do that. But what it also does is make Indianapolis' taste in public art seem almost as bad as Carmel's.

I might have been able to stomach the depiction of Wooden himself, down on a knee, coaching his squad. The problem comes from the five pairs of legs--and only legs--around him. Instead of leading a team of athletes, it looks like Wooden is holding forth in a Nordstrom window display warehouse. Or presiding over an early stop on the leg lamp assembly line.

My delay in commenting allowed others to take the lead. So I defer to Bill Littlefield, host of NPR's "Only a Game," who noted the sculpture while in town for a Spirit & Place event. His blog, in which he sees something very different in the piece, can be found here

Your thoughts? 

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  • Right on the money
    Indianapolis occasionally has trouble with public art. Case in point: This Wooden piece is just too literal, and verges right into the ridiculous. Wooden's own sculpture manages to upstage him with a herd of mannequin legs. I'm sure this sounded good as an idea, but it's just silly in execution.
    • More Statues
      The city needs to add statues of other Indiana icons on Georgia Street as an added attraction. Wouldn’t it be nice to see greats like Reggie Miller, Larry Bird, Peyton Manning, Oscar Robertson, Tony Dungy, Slick Leonard, Razor Shines? They could even add a Michael Jackson for crying out loud!
    • More statues
      The city needs to add statues of other Indiana icons on Georgia Street as an added attraction. Wouldn’t it be nice to see greats like Reggie Miller, Larry Bird, Peyton Manning, Oscar Robertson, Tony Dungy, Slick Leonard, Razor Shines? They could even add a Michael Jackson for crying out loud!
    • Add more statues
      The city needs to add statues of other Indiana icons on Georgia Street as an added attraction. Wouldn’t it be nice to see greats like Reggie Miller, Larry Bird, Peyton Manning, Oscar Robertson, Tony Dungy, Slick Leonard, Razor Shines? They could even add a Michael Jackson for crying out loud!
    • Freaks me out
      Yeah, I dont like walking by it because it freaks me out. We can debate about art, but one thing we all can probably agree is that the legs take focus away from John Wooden and detract rather than add to the display. If I was king, I'd just eliminate the legs entirely and just have the coach bent down holding his rolled up paper. That was John Wooden
    • Lampshades are needed
      I'm really surprised that no one has put lampshades on the legs - AND it IS almost time to start watching A Chistmas Story again.... any takers?
    • What would Coach say?
      I once saw an HBO documentary about the Wooden era at UCLA, and one of his players said that when Coach was really upset, he would say, "Goodness gracious sakes alive!" That might be what he would say about this piece of "art".
    • artwork in Carmel
      What is wrong with the artwork in Carmel? That comment added nothing to the conversation and was unnecessary. I think people who slam Carmel are jealous. And if your are wondering, I live in Indianapolis.
    • Unfinished
      The concept is obvious, but the execution is just too 'sliced off". You have to wonder if there were better ideas for the Wooden statue and for budgetary or political reasons, this one was deemed acceptable?
    • Almost as good as Ann Dancing
      I think it's terrific. . Artistic judgments are as subjective as anything, but in my opinion, the semantic content of public art in an urban setting should be different than that which is on display in a museum or art gallery, or even in an sculpture garden, where it still functions as part of a larger aesthetic. The Wooden sculpture is 100X more noticeable because of that circle of legs, and I can't think of a time that I've passed by where I haven't seen people taking pictures of themselves next to it. Without the legs, most people would walk right past it. With the legs, it becomes open to the sort of jokey analogies that Lou appropriate references here--and those jokes can encourage memetic alternative interpretations. Before long, it's iconic. . Plenty of non-Hoosiers under 30 y.o. don't know who John Wooden is, but the legs clearly contextualize him and remind us of his importance. Like Julian Opie's "Ann Dancing" on Mass Ave (which has its fair share of detractors), the jarring provocation behind it adds to the anything-goes heterogeneity that makes urban environments stimulating and fun. It will be a sad day if we nix another memorable public art installation simply because it isn't bland enough.
    • Lampshades
      And putting lampshades on the legs during Christmastime seems like a terrific idea to me...a real gesture of respect!
    • Not jealous at all
      krsioihn, I'm not jealous of Carmel at all. And as far as you know, I could be living there (Okay, I'm not, but still...) As to what I believe is wrong with it, well, I just believe a town should have higher artistic aspirations than decorating its streets to look like a third-tier outlet center. --Lou
    • Wooden was a cheater
      John Wooden was one of the biggest cheaters in college basketball history and shouldn't be honored at all. If they want to "honor" a disgrace like John Wooden than put a statue of Sam Gilbert next to him handing money to players to tell the real truth of the situation.
      • Odd
        I find the sculpture odd and the legs distract from the Wooden sculpture. Removing the legs and leaving only the shoes might work.
      • Creepy
        They even missed the concept. If he was coaching those legs, he would be facing them. Not away like he is. Just him would be perfect. He is a legend and everyone knows it.
      • There's zero proof
        Seriously? Name one example of Wooden's "cheating?" Nothing but bitterness from UCLA haters
        • Zero Proof?
          Bill, just ask the players. Bill Walton has said many times that Sam Gilbert gave him loans and gifts, so has Jabbar. Wooden cheated for years and even Dick Enberg the sportscaster has said the evidence is irrefutable. Incidently, I don't hate UCLA at all. Just a little tired of the St. Wooden act.
        • Statue could still be fixed
          The article is spot on, and I'm glad someone finally publicly acknowledged the awkwardness of the statue. It's a great concept like others have said, just poor execution. They could still fix the statue and leave most of it intact - just slice off most of the legs down to the calves or ankles. You'd still get the point what the artist was going for but avoid the creepy look that it has today. The statue as-is makes Wooden seem like he was into high school boys' thighs.

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