The Fussy Eye: Blue Bird

This bird don't fly.

Public plazas in front of office buildings are always problematic. Sometimes they’re empty, windy, government-mandated spaces (in exchange for higher zoning); sometimes they’re grassy and popular with lunch-hour picnickers. Should there also be “public” art (owned by the developer), there’s also the same awkward compromise between access and Do Not Touch. I will, however, credit developer Martin Selig for including public art in most of his projects, though the 85-foot-tall blue metal Songbird is a strange fit in a great location. As Fifth Avenue bends and ducks beneath Yesler, a stairclimb on the new tower’s south flank, Songbird looms in a blue tangle of steel girders, suggesting both balance and imminent collapse. Up close, it’s a neck-twister to examine. Do you worry when you walk beneath those giant construction cranes, nervous they might topple? Even from the somewhat safer eye-level perspective on Yesler, Songbird is all akimbo and disconcerting. It gestures in all directions without indicating anything—perhaps an allusion to our street grid’s historical veer at Yesler, as sculptor John Henry is likely aware. Based in Tennessee, Henry says on his website that he has “a sentimental fondness for the city” where he briefly lived “as a painter selling his works outside the World’s Fair in 1962.” None of which you’d know from looking at Songbird (there is no identifying plaque). Nor is there anything particularly light or avian about this 25-ton bird, so massively grounded in the concrete below.