Friday, May 25, 2018
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Tampa to highlight overlooked Agam sculpture

TAMPA — The 10-foot-tall sculpture is something like a family keepsake stashed out back by the trash cans for nearly 20 years.

But by the end of this year, it will be cleaned up and moved to a place of pride closer to the front door.

The City Council voted Thursday to approve a $38,515 upgrade for the Yaacov Agam sculpture Visual Welcome.

Agam is an Israeli artist with a global reputation as the father of "kinetic art" — art that appears to move.

But for years, Visual Welcome has been all but hidden on a stub of Twiggs Street between Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and the ramp into an underground parking garage. Its closest neighbors are a row of crape myrtles with hot pink blossoms on one side and 20 large, Army green trash bins on another.

Installed in 1995, Visual Welcome consists of nine vertical panels set 30 inches apart in a row. The panels, made of aircraft aluminum, are painted on both sides in more than 120 colors.

One side features checkerboard and color block patterns. The other has color blocks and circles. As the viewer passes by, the patterns shift.

"With an Agam, when you look at it, if you move 2 feet one way or 2 feet another way, the whole thing can completely change," said Dennis Carhart, the fabricator who originally installed the piece and who will restore it. "That's what's so cool about it. It moves."

The city is hiring Carhart's firm, Art Creations & Restorations of West Palm Beach, to refurbish the piece.

Carhart said he expects to take down the panels late this month or in early August. At his shop, he will clean off the rust, repair the chips, repaint and buff the panels to a new gloss.

In November or December, he will reinstall the sculpture in the median of Bayshore Boulevard, just south of the Academy of the Holy Names.

It's a good spot, said City Council member Mary Mulhern, who said the Agam piece has never received the prominence it deserves.

The sculpture is meant to be viewed as people pass by, she said, so Bayshore is ideal because of its constant stream of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

"Bayshore really has become our premier place to show public art," she said.

With the makeover and move, Visual Welcome should have a brighter future than another piece of ballyhooed Agam art that City Hall eventually regretted acquiring.

In 1991, Tampa Palms developer Ken Good gave the city a 6-ton steel fountain called Shamayim to go in front of the Tampa Convention Center.

Agam designed Shamayim to spew water and fire, but over the years, it cost City Hall nearly $250,000 to maintain. In 2000, rather than repaint it, the city took it down and sent it back to Good.

It's not unheard of for Agam art owners to not realize what they have, Carhart said. He's currently restoring a 30-foot-tall piece owned by a medical facility in Alabama.

The business was thinking of getting rid of the Agam piece — until an art appraiser said it's worth $13 million — and much more if restored, Carhart said.

In the future, he hopes Tampa holds its Agam sculpture in higher regard.

"I hope they take better care of it this time," Carhart said. "I don't think they realize what they have."

Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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