County unveils distinctive, provocative public art in downtown Salt Lake City

District Attorney Sim Gill is thrilled with the work of artist Gordon Huether; social media critics pan it as “awful,” with comparisons to a dead giraffe.

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) New glass art covering the façade of the downtown District Attorney building at 35 E. 500 S. is unveiled Wednesday September 27. The glass artwork is complete, but the building is currently under construction to be completed in Spring 2018.

The new Salt Lake County district attorney’s office in downtown Salt Lake City won’t be fully built and occupied until March. But local dignitaries on Wednesday unveiled the public art that covers the building face.

Composed of biophotonic glass — a type of deeply colored glass that is energized by light — the facade is the work of Gordon Huether, the same Napa Valley artist designing the major public art at the expanding Salt Lake City International Airport.

District Attorney Sim Gill says the glass art, its reflections and colors are rich in symbolism — changing with the sunlight and vantage point.

“It’s about having a dynamic piece, a piece that people will stop and take a look at and say, ‘What does that mean?’” Gill said.

Gill’s interpretation: “The law is abstract. It is nuanced. It is often discovered from different perspectives and you approach it from different perspectives. But it is not in a vacuum. The Constitution, the statutes, have our ideals reflected within them — ethics, transparency, justice, fairness, due process and that’s what gives substance to us as public institutions and public prosecutors.”

“We‘re very very excited about the art piece,” Gill said. “We want people to experience it. We want people to be provoked by it.”

They are. The unveiling (after weeks of the building front being covered with plywood) brought some immediate reaction on social media — much of it negative.

"It's horrible. Good heavens," Christian Harrison, head of the Salt Lake City Downtown Community Council, said on Facebook.

“I like it better that the plywood,” Michael Fife, former chairman of the Salt Lake City Planning Commission, said.

“Soooooo how much do yall hate it?” asked Clayton Scrivner, former spokesman for the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency, now with the county Parks and Recreation Department.

“So much that I won‘t even spend time pointing out how awful it is,” said Mark Morris, a Salt Lake City resident and landscape architect.

“There are likeable elements,” Scrivner responded.

One commenter suggested it looked like a dead giraffe.