Robert Irwin's 'Portal Park Piece (Slice)' has been reconfigured and is being reinstalled at what will become Carpenter Park in downtown Dallas. Photo by David Woo Photography courtesy of Parks for Downtown Dallas.

Visual Arts

Massive Public Art Piece Returning to New Downtown Dallas Park

Robert Irwin's 700-foot-long, 8-foot-tall sculpture, once nearly resigned to the scrap heap, is being reinstalled at the site of a new downtown Dallas park.

For years, sculptor Robert Irwin’s Portal Park Piece (Slice) ran through John Carpenter Plaza on the east side of downtown. Installed in 1981, the 700-foot-long, 8-foot-tall work fell into a state of disrepair along with the plaza itself. Realigned roads cut off what had initially been conceived as a sort of welcoming greenspace that would pull in foot traffic from East Dallas and Deep Ellum. The sculpture was mostly ignored by the city and by visitors unless they happened to catch a glance of the big metal wall on its green island as they were driving into downtown. (It did receive more regular attention from vandals.) As plans to redevelop the park began to pick up steam, Irwin himself said Dallas might as well get rid of his massive hunk of public art.

Then in 2016 the sculpture was saved. Parks for Downtown Dallas is the nonprofit foundation behind four new downtown parks. Two have opened in the last several years, including Pacific Plaza and most recently the high-tech West End Square. Crews are set to break ground on Harwood Park late this year. The biggest park of them all is now under construction at the old Carpenter Plaza site and slated to open next year. The designer hired by Parks for Downtown Dallas to put together the 5.6-acre Carpenter Park happened to know Irwin, and they worked together to ensure that the sculpture would be removed, retooled, and eventually reinstalled at the new park. The artwork was stored away until its time to return arrived.

That basically catches us up to Tuesday, which is when Doyle RaderD Magazine contributor, friend of the blog, and chronicler of the saga described above—tweeted that Portal Park Piece (Slice) was back.

That’s correct, says Sarah Hughes with Parks for Downtown Dallas. “Robert Irwin’s sculpture has been reconfigured for the new Carpenter Park and is in the process of being reinstalled,” she says in an email. “The design firm for Carpenter Park, Hargreaves Jones, has integrated the piece into the new park on the east-west axis, centered on a mound that overlooks the park.”

Here’s what it will look like when it’s finished:

A rendering of Carpenter Park, with Robert Irwin’s sculpture visible on the left side of the image. Courtesy of Parks for Downtown Dallas.

Getting this far wasn’t easy. As Rader wrote a few years ago:

Salvaging Irwin’s piece raised some challenges. In addition to the physical preservation of the artwork, the sculpture’s setting in the new park had to be re-imagined in a way that would allow it to enhance the experience of the place, rather than serve as the barrier it became in the old park configuration. When reinstalled, the sculpture will be reoriented on an east-west axis rather than the north-south one it originally had. It will remain a continuous piece, stretching through the park, incorporating berms once again. Almost all of the original sculpture will be used in the redesign. Two new COR-TEN, the weathering steel out of which the sculpture is made, 20-foot sections will be added to the work, however. They will both have water jet cut filigree detailing designed by Irwin.

With the specifications of Irwin and his fabricator, Jack Brogan, the sculpture was excavated, cut in to sections approximately 20 feet in length, and disassembled…The removal, storage, and re-installation of the art are being funded with $400,000 from the donation of John and Cele Carpenter III.

A few years ago Irwin’s sculpture appeared to be doomed. It sat neglected as the city changed around it. However, through the efforts of various organizations, Portal Park Piece (Slice) will find new life in a new park rather than being scrapped. That’s a win for the arts community and the city.

Construction of the park is on track for a spring 2022 opening, Hughes says. “The park includes a mix of active and passive spaces, including a basketball court and a small dog park on the east side, garden and lawn space, an interactive fountain on the corner of Pacific Ave and Pearl St, and a children’s nature playspace.”

Sounds pretty cool! Shame about that elevated highway looming near the park, though.

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