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The flourishing public art scene in downtown Chattanooga has lately been greatly enhanced by the installation of Albert Paley’s sculpture “Moment” at the intersection of West Main and Broad Streets. This sculpture’s presence has happily been extended over most of the corner by a serendipitous landscape of fine gravel, small trees and grasses that promise to blossom into a serene micro-environment.
Paley’s “Moment” draws one into contemplation of paradoxical forms, including fairly massive rectilinear structures, apparently frozen at a kind of “tipping point” (Paley), as well as a profusion of delicate shapes, suggestive of ribbons and rose petals, that not only complement and contrast with the larger structures, but which also call attention to their own incongruities, having been fashioned from the same steel as the larger forms.
One may be drawn by this dynamic play of heavy and light to circle this work and to discover nuances of formal juxtapositions that suggest more abstract concepts. The increments of geometric motions, the inherent subtleties of form—of line and curve—the serenity of this totality of all integrate diverse elements into a temporal increment, this “Moment.”
Chattanoogans have greatly benefited here from the collaboration of Sara Morgan of the Lyndhurst Foundation and Peggy Townsend of the Public Arts Committee. Townsend has been involved in many public arts installations around downtown Chattanooga, but the Paley installation developed from a larger conception, including both a major sculpture and a landscaped environment.
Craig Kronenberg engaged landscape designer John Creasy to enhance this sculpture’s standing with an organic background that echoes the play of forms inherent within this sculpture.
First, surrounding the pedestal of “Moment,” fine gravel extends in all directions. The ergonomic qualities of this gravel both comfort one’s feet while standing and encourage movement around the work, which helps one to appreciate nuances of this work from various angles, one of “Moment”’s aesthetic strengths.
Second, a semi-circular background includes small trees and switch grass. Kronenberg remarks that “Moment” presents a “tour de force” with its containment of massive planes and of organic curves. These trees will grow to screen and to emphasize this work’s serene presence. These trees include both sweet bay magnolias and London plume varieties. Switch grass planted between these trees will fill in and catch breezes to illustrate some of the formal values conjured by “Moment.”
Aesthetic elegance may call to mind various effects; indeed, at a sublime level these words are virtual synonyms. Paley’s “Moment” encourages such recognition. His remarks on the sculpture indicate how he sees it: “defying gravity” with “the pylon shape ready to tip over.” Gravity may be invisible, but it is quickly brought to mind when it appears to be dramatically incipient. Paley’s “weathering steel” emphasizes the massive qualities of collumnal geometric forms. These forms, momentarily poised in gravity’s embrace, also convey an implied narrative to our modern sensibility, the narrative of ruin, of erect structures that over time may collapse.
All this may be substantial, but “Moment” conveys much more. Other, more organic forms, ribbon- or petal-like emerge in paradoxical delicacy to the steel of which they are wrought—and, Paley suggests, invite another invisible force, wind, for even the slightest breeze will animate delicate forms.
Consequently, “Moment” presents a kind of cosmic schematic of interplay between geometric and organic forms with their own associations to civilization and nature, gender and abstraction. Remarkably, all this brings recognition of Paley’s consummate joy of expression through his chosen medium.
“ Moment” stretches an instant of time into a much longer temporal arc by bringing into play diverse forms that in turn invite familiar invisible forces. Dialogues of form and material suggest the Great Invisible: time. Sublime and serene, “Moment” engenders deep contemplation.