Our View: Artfully done

Our View: Artfully done
'Two Boxes of Oranges and Admonia Jackson' by Nina Cooke John. (Photo/Brianne McConnell)

Quick, name something – other than paper product companies – that began pre-pandemic, grew stronger as COVID-19 raged, and is currently thriving.

The list is short. Happily, Alexandria’s public art exhibits at Waterfront Park, which began in 2019 and have continued to delight, are on it.

As with most high profile decisions that involve public property, Alexandrians expressed a wide range of opinions during the public comment period about what should grace the place of honor at the foot of King Street after the old Boat Club was demolished. Some people were in favor of a fixed statue of George Washington or another historical figure, while others advocated for a range of other options.

We think the City of Alexandria got this one just right when city leaders chose to have a series of temporary art exhibits on the waterfront.

Rotating public art installations keep the waterfront fresh. They offer residents a window into what artists make of our waterfront and its history, present and future.

“Mirror Mirror” by SOFTlab was the first installation, in 2019. It was followed by “Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies” by Olalekan Jeyifous in 2020, as the pandemic began racing through the United States. “Groundswell” by Mark Reigelman followed in 2021.

And last year’s “I Love You” by Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt of R&R Studios absolutely delighted. No one who saw it will soon forget the giant letters, in pink neon, that adorned Waterfront Park with its statement that’s both simple and sagacious. The sign was a magnet for selfies and family photos and brought a joyful feeling to Waterfront Park.

The newest installation, which was officially unveiled on Saturday, is called “Two Boxes of Oranges and Admonia Jackson.” The unusual title comes from research by artist Nina Cooke John about the contents of ships that docked along Alexandria’s commercial waterfront in the past. Those contents ranged from the mundane to the tragic, from foodstuffs to enslaved humans.

Cooke John’s project, which evokes the spokes of ship hulls that have been discovered during archaeological digs along Alexandria’s waterfront as it’s been redeveloped in the past decade, is simultaneously visually appealing, somber and thought provoking.

Each installation so far at Waterfront Park has been thought-provoking and visually interesting. Not everyone is going to love each project, of course. But that’s the beauty of the rotation. If what’s there right now isn’t your cup of tea, the next one might well leave you filled with awe – or giggling with delight.

That’s the nature of art.