Protagoras by Charles Ginnever

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Charles Ginnever‘s 1976 work “Protagoras” stood in front of the federal court house in St. Paul for 30 years. It was removed in 2006 during construction and was reinstalled in 2008.

The abstract work has brought plenty of controversy with it. Shortly after its installation, the piece was vandalized with its price tag: $42,500. An article in the Pioneer Press by Ozzie St. George described the work as a “nasty accident”:

“In St. George’s account a flat bed trailer had obviously misjudged the corner of Robert Street and Kellogg Boulevard and left a pile of steel in a heap as a result.” (Monumental Minnesota)

The late Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire gave “Protagoras” his Golden Fleece Award for government waste, calling the work “a rusty piece of farm machinery left out in the field.” When asked about the award, Ginnever commented, “He gave one to Claes Oldenburg for his baseball bat sculpture in Chicago that year, too, so I was in very good company.”

In the years since the controversy St. Paul has received a few more sculptures that make people scratch their heads (like this one), making “Protagoras” seem downright tame.

“I’ve always felt the Ginnever is a very graceful piece; the very idea that you can take this incredibly heavy material — steel — and make it into this unfolding fan is incredibly beautiful,” says Christine Podas-Larson, president of Public Art St. Paul.

I tend to agree. A lot of people have the ‘pile of junk’ or ‘I could do that’ reaction to abstract art, but that usually means they don’t get it. Abstract art isn’t for everyone, but I think there’s a subtle beauty in these creations that make them much more engaging than just another statue.


What do you think?