Salt Lake City’s largest single piece of public art was ready for its big debut Tuesday — but the wind wasn’t.
Earlier in the day, artist Ned Kahn said, his seven-story installation on the side of the Walker Center parking garage along Regent Street was moving beautifully, its 336 teflon-fabric panels rippling like waves.
“It was doing everything it’s supposed to do,” Kahn said.
During a city-sponsored celebration, the new artwork “Pages of Salt” — fittingly for an artwork that looks out over the nearby Eccles Theater — was being a bit of a diva.
“The paradox of opening a wind sculpture on a perfectly calm day [is] nature’s way of keeping me in my place,” Kahn said.
Wind, said Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said, is integral to “Pages of Salt,” as a work “that reminds us of the inherent beauty and power of the wind, which has shaped the landscape of our city, from the Great Salt Lake to the Cottonwood canyons.” Kahn’s aim, she said, “is to get us to move from thinking about nature as a resource to falling deeply in love with it.”
Biskupski added, “and I’m someone who hates wind,” pointing to her trademark curly hair.
The massive installation cost $2.2 million to create, part of a $12 million Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency (RDA) reconstruction of Regent Street on the back side of the Eccles Theater and the adjoining 111 Main office tower.
Salt Lake City Councilwoman Amy Fowler, who chairs the RDA board, said the expense was justified by the foot traffic and attention the artwork will bring to McCarthey Plaza.
“Public art does actually draw people into a space, whether you love it or hate it,” Fowler said. And in downtown’s “theater district,” she added, “people expect to see something magnificent and over the top.”
Kahn’s design came in second in two previous rounds of bidding for proposals for the space, said Kat Nix, public art manager for the Salt Lake City Arts Council. Both times, though, the other artist’s project fell through. On the third attempt, Kahn’s design prevailed.
Kahn, in an earlier interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, described several influences for “Pages of Salt.”
The teflon “pages,” each suspended from a stainless-steel rod mounted to the parking garage’s concrete wall, were meant to invoke pages of a newspaper coming off the press — to reflect the plaza’s former occupants, the printing presses of The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News. (McCarthey Plaza is named for the family that owned The Tribune from 1901 to 1997.)
The white-on-white rippling of the teflon panels, Kahn said, was inspired by the residue of salt left by the waves on the Great Salt Lake. “They’re almost like memories of the different levels of the lake, and as the lake evaporates, they become more apparent,” he said.
“I was surprised at the number of people who live there who have never been out to the lake,” said Kahn, who lives in northern California. “Here’s this beautiful, mysterious, magical thing that’s only a few miles away. But in the city, people forget about it or don’t even know about it.”
Being made of stainless steel and teflon, Kahn said “Pages of Salt” will be a durable artwork.
“I’ve completed over 100 public art projects over 30 years,” he said, “and I would say this piece in Salt Lake City is going to outlast them all.”