Pappajohn Sculpture Park
Explore Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines through the beautiful print section that was originally published in the Sept. 20, 2009 edition of the Sunday Des Moines Register.
the country, changes the look of a two-block area between Grand Avenue and Locust Street in the Western Gateway. Many hope it will alter the city's cultural, social and economic landscapes as well. Fleming sees the green space as downtown's "heart and soul" and "the place where the city of Des Moines will breathe." Many of downtown's 75,000 workers have watched the sculpture garden grow as BRIGHT NEW LIGHT on the world's cultural radar will appear next weekend when the Pappajohn Sculpture Park opens in downtown Des Moines. The two dozen sculptures that John and Mary Pappajohn gave to the Des Moines Art Center were recently appraised at about $40 million, which is thought to be the largest public gift in Iowa history. The venture capitalist and his wife contacted "When John Pappajohn calls you on the phone the museum about their idea in early 2007. and says, `I have an idea,' you know it's someBut nobody predicted exactly how big. The thing big," Art Center director Jeff Fleming said. couple's original gift of 16 major sculptures quickly grew -- and the Pappajohns have hinted at plans for more. The project, which is one of the most accessible major-league art parks in works by blue-chip artists such as Willem de Kooning, Louise Bourgeois and Richard Serra have arrived from their previous location at the Pappajohns' Southof-Grand home. Other works, including Jaume Plensa's three-story Nomade and Deborah Butterfield's newly commissioned horse, were purchased specifically for the park. To put them in wider context, these sculptors are to the art world what Oprah Winfrey is to talk shows and Tiger Woods is to the PGA. "To be perfectly honest, I didn't realize the full impact of the project until I learned more about the sculptures," said City Councilwoman Christine Hensley, whose ward includes downtown. She and several other city leaders toured the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and two more on Washington's National Mall to see comparable works of art. "That's when it hit," she said. "Oh my gosh, we're on a playing field that is way beyond a lot of other sculpture parks in the country." Articles about the park's construction have appeared in the New York Times, Town and Country, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Many of the artists and aficionados who are flying to Iowa next weekend may spot the note in Hemispheres, the in-flight magazine on United Airlines. Of course, not everyone greeted the news with approval. Directors of museums the Pappajohns have supported for decades -- notably the Walker in Minneapolis and the Hirshhorn and National Gallery of Art in Washington -- were disappointed to learn the sculptures will stay in Des Moines. But if those directors gnashed their teeth, they did so quietly; the Pappajohns have hundreds of indoor works that will one day need a home. The reason behind their plan for the outdoor sculp tures, at least, was fairly simple. "We've lived here. We've loved our city," Mary Pappajohn said during a recent interview in her husband's art-filled office on the 21st floor of the Financial Center. "We belong on enough boards where we could have given maybe three pieces here and three pieces there, (but) we like keeping it all together, and it just made sense. Des Moines has been a wonderful place for both of us." John Pappajohn, a Greek immigrant who once plucked chickens for his family's grocery store in Mason City, built his fortune by investing in new and growing businesses. He has been involved with more than 100 startups over the years and served as director in more than 40 public companies. But even though he's in what he likes to call "the deal business," Pappajohn insists that he and his wife have never purchased a piece of art solely as an investment -- from the $100 painting they bought shortly after their wedding in 1961, to the gray-and-black Mark Rothko they bought in 1996 for $800,000. (They sold it two years ago at Sotheby's for $12 million. "We had never sold a piece of art before," John Pappajohn told the Times. "But we sold it to buy more sculpture.") With most sculpture parks, the planners first find a patch of land and then fill it with artwork. But the Des Moines park evolved the other way around: The Pappajohns already owned a major collection and wanted a better place to display it. So they worked out a plan with the Art Center and the city. The museum will take legal possession of the artwork over the next five years, while the city will keep the land, which was already a public park. That particular arrangement, with the arrival of the artwork all at once, allowed the park's planners to develop the site with the specific sculptures in mind. They hired New York architects Diana Agrest and Mario Gandelsonas, who have a 20-year history with Des Moines, to transform the 4.4 acres into an outdoor museum. The result of their work is a series of crescent-shaped berms that divide the space into open-air "rooms," each with its own loose theme. There's the minimalist area, with Gary Hume's snowmen and Ellsworth Kelly's tower. And the trio of boulder-sized bronzes by de Kooning, Tony Cragg and William Buckley. And in the figurative, mildly creepy northeast section that some have called the "Harry Potter corner" stand Bourgeois' spider, Judith Shea's ghostly overcoat and Ugo Rondinone's maniacal Mr. Potato Heads, who stare at traffic on Grand Avenue. "My biggest fear is that we're going to have rear-end accidents," Hensley said. Agrest and Gandelsonas flew to Des Moines several weeks ago to visit the park one final time before the grand opening. They tweaked a few things, including creating a higher berm behind Nomade, but were pleased with the park's overall feel. "I love it. I can't even tell you," Agrest said. "I'm enthralled with it." One of the designers' biggest challenges, she explained, was predicting how the larger and smaller artwork would look from the sidewalk, the street and any of the taller buildings that frame the park. "The scariest thing in architecture is scale," she said. "And it seems like I'm blowing my own horn, but so far I've hit it just right." The way she actually achieved that is telling: She superimposed the outline of the park on a map of New York's Upper East Side, an area where she frequently walks, to get a feel for the park's size. "The site is bigger than the footprint of the Metropolitan Museum," she said. "It's no little thing." Venture capitalist signed up for an art appreciation class in 1952 at the University of Iowa. He expected it be a fluff course, but it changed his life. He developed a passion for art; married , an art lover and interior-design major from the University of Minnesota, and started building a collection shortly after their wedding in 1961. Over the years, the couple amassed a blue-chip collection of contemporary art in their Des Moines home and its surrounding yard. All of their outdoor sculptures, plus a few new acquisitions, are now part of the $40 million collection in the park that bears their name. � Their favorites: "I don't want to pick a favorite because it's like a family," John Pappajohn said. "It's like asking people which is their favorite kid. You love them all." His wife agreed, but noted that of all the sculptures that once stood in their back yard, she misses Burton's table and chairs the most. As director of the Des Moines Art Center, which will take legal possession of the sculptures over the next five years, has overseen the project from start to finish. He served in many ways as the project's curator, working with the Pappajohns, the city, the designers and contractors to decide how each sculpture would fit into the park's overall plan. His Art Center team managed details about installation, insurance, maintenance, security, public relations, special events -- and countless surprises along the way. "I've learned so much about concrete," he said. "I have a whole new respect for a great number of people, that's for sure." � His favorite: He wouldn't single out a particular sculpture -- "these are some of the best works by the best artists" -- but he's partial to Bourgeois' Spider and de Kooning's Reclining Figure. Art Center chief preparator oversaw the museum's on-site team and designed the sculptures' pedestals. "I was sweating bullets up until they moved in that first piece," he said. "When it fit, it was just like, `Oh, thank you.' " His toughest challenge was coordinating the logistics of street closures, sculpture arrivals and construction deadlines -- all with the wild card of this summer's rainy weather. "It's a juggling act," he told the Register in June. "We're all trying to make it look beautiful, but there's the art side, which can be fussy and fragile, and then you've got skid loaders and cranes and construction guys, who aren't necessarily used to working with such sensitive stuff." � His favorite: Plensa's Nomade. "We've moved it so many times, it's like a friend." He didn't like Rondinone's lumpy heads until it dawned on him: "You know what? I get it. They're funny. They're supposed to be funny. They make me laugh every time I drive by." New York architects and urban planners and have worked with Des Moines since the 1980s to develop a conceptual vision for downtown, but the sculpture park is the first physical project they've personally designed for the city. The idea to use crescent-shaped berms to divide the park into open "rooms" first came to Agrest, who sketched it out and ran it by Gandelsonas for further brainstorming. The pair drafted several variations before their three clients -- the Pappajohns, the Art Center and the city -- settled on the current plan. "It's an urban project, not just a landscape project," Agrest said. "It's tough, but to be able to create an outdoor space for such a fabulous collection is a real treat." � Their favorites: Gandelsonas is drawn to LeWitt's Modular Piece and Tony Smith's Willy, while Agrest has yet to decide. "I can't tell you yet," she said. "When I see them all in place, then I'll tell you." Landscape architect and a team of 10 colleagues from the Des Moines-based RDG Planning and Design translated the park's big-picture concept to nitty-gritty blueprints. They worked with Agrest and Gandelsonas to draft construction plans for everything from the landscape's topography to the lights that illuminate the sculptures at night. The RDG team helped select plantings and visited the site daily to monitor its progress. "The hardest part was keeping the original intent alive," Dunn said. � His favorite: Butterfield's horses. "They look like driftwood pieces, but they really aren't," he said. "It's just fantastic how the artists can make something look so simple and put it together. It's really not what you think. There's some mystery involved." City councilor 's ward includes downtown, and she was one of the Pappajohns' first contacts with the city. She joined Jim Cownie and Steve Zumbach to lead the fundraising team, and recruited help from city manager Rick Clark and various other officials to guide the project through tangles of red tape. When she learned in late 2007, for example, that Plensa's Nomade was being shipped to Des Moines, she worked with parks and recreation director Don Tripp to prepare for its arrival -- just a week later. A crew built a platform, inspectors made sure the underground infrastructure could support the weight, and a security team stepped up with a plan. "We all just worked like crazy to make it happen," she said. � Her favorite: Plensa's Nomade and Flanagan's Thinker on a Rock. For the last two and a half years, the sculpture park was the subject of almost daily conversation in the city's parks and recreation department -- even as the staff managed the aftermath of last year's flood. "We've got the best parks and recreation staff in the entire world," said director . He credits Ben Page for helping with installations; Doug Romig and Julie Stundins for developing visitor guidelines; Marlene Anderson for writing grants; Kevin Moran for working with the Art Center, the park's designers and contractors; and Susan Noland and Susan Koenig-Vandehaar for their guidance on the parks and recreation board. He also praised Ann DiDonato from the city's legal department, as well as Jeb Brewer, Pam Cooksey and Gene Schmitt from the engineering department. His favorite: Plensa's Nomade. Its arrival marked "the first time people saw art in this park, and they became immediately attracted to it," he said. Local businessman , left, and the Pappajohns' lawyer, teamed up with Hensley to raise about $6.5 million for the park's construction and an endowment for its security and upkeep. They met their goal in about six months. "It was a very successful effort," Cownie said. "I think almost everybody we called recognized it was a good idea." Part of their success was lucky -- they began the campaign before the recession -- but the park's potential sold itself, Cownie said. He especially likes how the park looks at night. "When it's open and illuminated, I think it's going to be amazing," he said. � Their favorites: Cownie likes Butterfield's horses, which remind him of a sculpture he once spotted in a South Dakota golf course. "It's magnificent," he said. "I've always admired it." Zumbach likes Plensa's Nomade. "It's in a class by itself," he said. was the on-site supervisor for the Chicago-based firm Methods and Materials, which specializes in installing artwork and historic artifacts. Some of the sculptures his six-member team hauled from the Pappajohns' home were fairly simple -- he called them the "plop and place ones" -- but others took several days of concentrated effort. Di Suvero's spiky red T8, for example, required two cranes working in tandem. "The parts had to slide in at exactly the right angle, which is pretty hard to do," Langworthy said. And Hume's twin Snowmen were tricky, too: "You're basically lifting a round ball. They're hard to get a hold of." � His favorite: Plensa's Nomade and the pieces by Hume. "They have a reference to snowmen, which everybody gets, but they also have this gorgeous surface. They have a texture just like packed snow." As senior project manager for Urbandale's Pinnacle Construction Group, worked with more than a dozen independent contractors and subcontractors. Together they graded the land, built the concrete walls, created the curving sidewalks, installed the handrails and benches, hooked up the lights, embedded sprinklers, reworked the storm sewers and installed sod. The curved walls presented the toughest challenge, he said. One is about 180 feet and two are 265 feet and they all tilt outward at a 75-degree angle. "It was not a construction project. It was an art project," Zarn said. "The whole process was fascinating." � His favorite: Butterfield's horses, which his kids enjoy, and de Kooning's Reclining Figure. "I just like the thickness of it," he said. , a senior objects conservator with the Minneapolisbased Midwest Art Conservation Center, visited the park this summer to inspect all the sculptures and write up a list of recommendations for their long-term maintenance. She's something of an "art doctor," and checked for signs of corrosion, chipped paint and a condition called bronze disease. She said some of the sculptures that used to sit directly on the ground in the Pappajohns' yard will benefit from their new installations on concrete pedestals, which will keep them off damp soil and snow. The works will need routine cleaning, and the bronze pieces require applications of hot wax to protect their surfaces from the elements. � Her favorites: Bourgeois' Spider and de Kooning's Reclining Figure. "There's just something about its shape, and the idea that someone formed it from a pile of clay." As a guard for Neighborhood Patrol Incorporated, may have spent more time contemplating the sculptures at their new site than anyone else so far. He has walked a lap around the park every half hour from 5 p.m. to midnight, five days a week, since the middle of summer. He's witnessed only one incident so far: A man jumped the construction fence but exited quickly, without much fuss. Security guards at the nearby Allied/Nationwide insurance company will monitor the park via a dozen video cameras, but guards like Kenworthy will watch over the sculptures in person. "There's a few that are kind of weird, but they call it art," he said. � His favorite: Butterfield's horses. "I've had a couple people tell me to feed them," he said. "They're looking pretty slim." ith its two dozen major sculptures, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park belongs on a short list of similar sites around the world. There are larger parks and bigger collections of work by the same artists, but a few factors make the Des Moines park unique, according to Des Moines Art Center director Jeff Fleming. "It's really about quality rather than quantity," he said. "This is really the top tier of artists, and these are some of their best works." The 24 sculptures' simultaneous arrival was also a bonus. It allowed planners to design a cohesive site from scratch, while most parks develop piecemeal over decades. But the 4.4-acre park's best asset may be its fence-less location. "It's right in the heart of downtown," Fleming said. "It's absolutely impossible to miss." For comparison, here's a tour of other sculpture parks around the United States. Artists whose names are in bold are also represented in the Pappajohn collection. Yes. For years the two-block area from 13th to 15th streets between Locust Street and Grand Avenue was full of old buildings in various states of disrepair. But in 2006, the freshly bulldozed area opened as a park, with an open lawn and surrounded by a row of new trees. Its creation was part of a broader plan for the Western Gateway, which cost the city more than $35 million. The site was popular for pick-up soccer games, outdoor movies and larger gatherings, such as the annual 80/35 Music Festival, which drew an estimated 30,000 to the park in 2008. The city's budget didn't allow for as many features as leaders had originally planned. "It was very nice but it lacked that pizzazz," city councilor Christine Hensley said of the earlier park. "It just didn't have that wow factor." But then John Pappajohn called her, in early 2007, with a surprise offer to transform the area into a sculpture park. Planning may have been easier and less expensive had he called a few years earlier, but Hensley doesn't regret his timing. "I don't think he would have had the idea," she said. "He told me he was driving to the office one morning, past the park, and a light just went on." A fundraising team led by Hensley, businessman Jim Cownie and attorney Steve Zumbach generated about $6.5 million for the sculpture park's construction. Most of that sum came from corporate and private donations, but the state awarded the project a $1 million Vision Iowa grant. Polk County contributed $100,000, and the city kicked in $500,000 left over from the original Western Gateway funds. The Pappajohns requested that the public's share of the cost be limited. "The money was raised before the financial meltdown, and there was some good momentum and a good level of optimism in the community," Cownie said. "I think people who looked at the project recognized it as an important thing for their hometown." The original estimate for the sculpture park -- about $600,000 -- quickly topped $6 million when project leaders decided to transform the flat lawn into a hilly landscape to better display the artwork. The price tag also grew as the Pappajohns' original donation of 16 sculptures grew to 24. The bigger budget includes costs for installation and an endowment between $1 million and $2 million for future maintenance and security costs. The Pappajohn Sculpture Park, unlike most of its kind, will be open from 6 a.m. to midnight daily, without fences or gates. Night-time visitors will simply be asked to leave. "If you put a fence around it, I think it kind of ruins it," John Pappajohn told the Register in 2007. "I'd rather take a little risk on the vandalism and leave it open." A crew installed a dozen video cameras, which are monitored by guards nearby at Allied/Nationwide. The insurance company has agreed to continue the service for at least 10 years. Motion sensors and speakers have been installed near several of the more fragile sculptures, and if visitors get too close, guards will speak to them directly. ("Step away from that horse. It isn't for riding.") Prickly shrubs were planted around the Spider to discourage touching, and the police department will step up its foot patrol of the entire area, especially during the first weeks after the park opens and during warmer weather. Uh, no. Touching the artwork is strictly forbidden, despite several of the sculptures' tempting jungle-gym allure. The only exception is for Scott Burton's granite table and chairs, which are fair game for picnics, coffee breaks, dates and general hanging out. Just a few: Smoking is prohibited, as is alcohol, except by permit. Visitors should walk their bikes, carry their skateboards and leash and clean up after their pets. For information about reserving the park for special events, at least 90 days in advance, call the city at (515) 237-1386. Probably. The Pappajohns are currently negotiating the acquisition of at least one more major work. Future additions are up to the Art Center's acquisition committee, although both the city and the Pappajohns will have the power to veto their decision. "Maybe in the next generation or the next 10 years somebody may come along with something that's not acceptable," John Pappajohn said. "So far, it hasn't been an issue."