The Calatrava is 10 years old (and the orange sunburst thing is still awful)
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The Milwaukee Art Museum’s famed Santiago Calatrava expansion celebrates its 10-year anniversary this week, and we’re already flooded with countless “Believe it or not, the Calatrava is 10 years old!” tributes. Not that the building doesn’t deserve the press. In just a short decade, it has become a stone-cold Milwaukee icon. Its winged image graces countless travel brochures and feel-good TV news bumpers, and it has handily bested Miller Park’s retractable roof as the subject-of-choice for aspiring time-lapse videographers. We can all agree that the Calatrava is pretty terrific, but let’s not talk about that right now—let’s talk about the awful orange sunburst thing in front of it.
You know the one: It’s called “The Calling”; sculptor Mark di Suvero designed it in 1982; and it cocks up a perfectly gorgeous Wisconsin Avenue view of the Calatrava. Oh, and it recently earned Milwaukee a number-five spot on VirtualTourist.com’s “Top 10 Places With Bad Public Art.” And that’s not just places in the Midwest or the United States. “The Calling” joins architectural eyesores in Germany and The Netherlands, making it the fifth-worst piece of public art in the world.
And you know what? I couldn’t agree more. Sure, its primo location in O’Donnell Park may have made it the bee’s knees in the early ’80s, but it’s long since become outdated and outclassed. It’s a fly in the soup, a turd in the punchbowl—or, in the parlance of Garth Brooks, a pair of boots at a black-tie affair. If the Calatrava is indeed the “sexiest building in the world,” then “The Calling” is a pair of orange granny panties.
On my darker days, I often think that “The Calling” perfectly illustrates everything wrong with Milwaukee. Sure, we may have good intentions, but we’re almost guaranteed to fuck it up with a dunderheaded move. (Got a nice piece of available space along the river? Might we interest you in a Bronze Fonz?) For me, “The Calling” loudly proclaims that no matter how many incredible bands and super-duper yummy restaurants we have, we’ll always be hopelessly dopey and regional.
But that’s during my darker days. On my good days—when the weather is gorgeous and the Mountain Dew is coursing nicely through my veins—I like to think that “The Calling” neatly sums up everything that’s adorably right about Milwaukee. Sure, we can be hopelessly dopey and regional, but who cares? Want to design a world-class architectural wonder along our lakefont, Mr. World-Class Architect? Fine, but don’t expect us to move our shitty Dr. Evermore reject from the ’80s.
So happy birthday, Calatrava extension. May your greatness lurk behind the steel beams of proud Milwaukee mediocrity for another 10 years.