San Juan Feature
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Public art is transforming the Puerto Rican capital: here a monolithic metal dove, there avocados so big you can stretch out on them. The stained-glass blades of a windmill spin above an oceanfront drive. A bright red jack towers over children at play in a park. These are only some of the 25 works that the city commissioned from 1996 to 2000, when Governor Sila María Calderón was its mayor.
Often the works seem perfectly at home in their environments. Platanal, by Imel Sierra Cabreras, has translucent panels that run across the ceiling of the restored Plaza del Mercado in Santurce. The avocados in My Favorite Fruit by Annex Burgos seem to spill from the entrance of this marketplace and across its front plaza. Although the large jack by María Elena Perales is a bit surreal, it's an appropriate addition to a playground in Parque Central Municipio de San Juan.
Some pieces attempt to soften or enliven their surroundings. Carmen Inés Blondet, whose Fire Dance is a collection of 28- to 35-foot spirals, created what seems an abstract forest in the midst of the concrete jungle. Crabs were once a common sight in Santurce (hence the name of the baseball team, the Santurce Crabbers), so Adelino González's benches for the area are bronze crabs. Windmills of San Juan, by Eric Tabales, is a whimsical tribute to the coast and its ocean breezes. The steel tower, with its rotating wheel of color, is on a restored ocean-side drive in Ocean Park.
The works haven't been without controversy. Many residents found Paloma, the metallic dove that towers over a busy Condado intersection, ugly; others went so far as to assert that it was the cause of traffic jams. Mayor Jorge Santini even threatened to remove it during his campaign. But it appears to be here to stay. To soften the piece, a fountain was added to its base, and it's now especially beautiful at night when the water is illuminated.
As a whole, however, the statues have made San Juan more interesting. And public art has spread around the island. In January 2002 Governor Calderón unveiled the Puerto Rico Public Art Project. Its budget of $15 million has funded about 100 new works. In San Juan these include stations of the urban train, the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, and several government buildings and city parks. The committee also envisions installing works at nature reserves, along highways, and in school playgrounds across the island. Soon, perhaps, that new bus stop, lifeguard station, or street-vendor stand you see will truly be a work of art.
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