Amherst art windows will offer views on tiny interactional worlds

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  • An electronic art installation, “Poem Windows”, by Cambridge artist Ritsuko Taho has been part of the Boltwood Walk Parking Garage, or Boltwood Garage, in Amherst since its completion in 2002. The work, which incorporates five monitors viewed through small windows, is built into the south wall of the central building that houses the elevator and main staircase. Photographed on Monday, May 17, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Boltwood Plaza, above the Boltwood Walk Parking Garage in Amherst, photographed on Monday, May 17, 2021. This week the town’s Public Art Commission announced the creation of the Portal Gallery which will replace the electronic art installation, “Poem Windows”, by Cambridge artist Ritsuko Taho with a work by Amherst artist Benjamin Cowden. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • An electronic art installation, “Poem Windows”, by Cambridge artist Ritsuko Taho has been part of the Boltwood Walk Parking Garage, or Boltwood Garage, in Amherst since its completion in 2002. The work, which incorporates five monitors viewed through small windows, is built into the south wall of the central building that houses the elevator and main staircase. Photographed on Monday, May 17, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • An electronic art installation, “Poem Windows,” by Cambridge artist Ritsuko Taho has been part of the Boltwood Walk Parking Garage, or Boltwood Garage, in Amherst since its completion in 2002. The work, which incorporates five monitors viewed through small windows, is built into the south wall of the central building that houses the elevator and main staircase. Photographed on Monday, May 17, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • An electronic art installation, “Poem Windows”, by Cambridge artist Ritsuko Taho has been part of the Boltwood Walk Parking Garage, or Boltwood Garage, in Amherst since its completion in 2002. The work, which incorporates five monitors viewed through small windows, is built into the south wall of the central building that houses the elevator and main staircase. Photographed on Monday, May 17, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • An electronic art installation, “Poem Windows”, by Cambridge artist Ritsuko Taho has been part of the Boltwood Walk Parking Garage, or Boltwood Garage, in Amherst since its completion in 2002. The work, which incorporates five monitors viewed through small windows, is built into the south wall of the central building that houses the elevator and main staircase. Photographed on Monday, May 17, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Boltwood Plaza, above the Boltwood Walk Parking Garage in Amherst, photographed on Monday, May 17, 2021. This week the town’s Public Art Commission announced the creation of the Portal Gallery which will replace the electronic art installation, “Poem Windows”, by Cambridge artist Ritsuko Taho with a work by Amherst artist Benjamin Cowden. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • An electronic art installation, “Poem Windows”, by Cambridge artist Ritsuko Taho has been part of the Boltwood Walk Parking Garage, or Boltwood Garage, in Amherst since its completion in 2002. The work is built into the south wall of the central building that houses the elevator and main staircase. Photographed on Monday, May 17, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • “A Poetic Dialogue”, a metal sculpture by Michael Virzi, imagines a conversation between Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) and Robert Frost (1874-1963). Commissioned by the Amherst Public Art Commission, it was installed in the Gates Lot, near the corner of Main and Churchill streets, in 1996. Photographed on Monday, May 17, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A figure of Emily Dickinson, one half of the metal sculpture “A Poetic Dialogue” by Michael Virzi, shows signs of wear since its installation near the corner of Main and Churchill streets in 1996. The Amherst Public Art Commission is having the entire sculpture, including the complementary figure of Robert Frost, refurbished. Photographed on Monday, May 17, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A figure of Robert Frost, one half of the metal sculpture “A Poetic Dialogue” by Michael Virzi, shows signs of wear since its installation near the corner of Main and Churchill streets in 1996. The Amherst Public Art Commission is having the entire sculpture, including the complementary figure of Emily Dickinson, refurbished. Photographed on Monday, May 17, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 5/18/2021 3:31:46 PM

AMHERST — An art installation integrated into the Boltwood parking garage that displays fragments of locally composed poetry in bright green letters on computer screens has rarely functioned since the structure opened in 2002.

Recognizing that Poem Windows, created by Cambridge artist Ritsuko Taho, is mostly broken, the Public Art Commission this week announced the creation of the Portal Gallery on Boltwood Plaza, selecting Amherst artist Benjamin Cowden to unveil a pilot exhibition this summer in the brick wall that houses the elevator and main staircase.

Chairman William Kaizen said the COVID-19 pandemic has offered an opportunity to improve the open patio areas of the upper level of the garage, which is more in demand than ever with tables and chairs set up during good weather so people can safely patronize local restaurants.

“The commission has long wanted to do something productive with that space,” Kaizen said. “We hope that after this inaugural exhibition, we can secure ongoing funding to make the Portal Gallery a permanent feature of Amherst’s cultural life.”

The commission, in seeking applications, was not interested in structurally changing the five small, south-facing windows, where the aging monitors at one time slowly moved the words of a number of four-line poems, many reflecting the sentiments in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Under his plan, Cowden will install his works in the window openings. Viewers will access the art by peering through the glass to see a series of dioramas, which he explained in his application will use sensors, microcontrollers, low-powered LED lights and small motors.

“These dioramas will glow, pulse, and move as the viewer approaches and ‘plays’ with them through the protective glass.” he wrote.

The five miniature worlds, Cowden explained, built off-site and likely to be installed sometime in June, combine natural and mechanical elements to feature abstract representations of spinning caves, blooming flowers and dancing rock beds. These sculptures also respond to environmental cues, such as shining a light from a cellphone or clapping, or simply the outside temperature and humidity.

The Amherst Center Cultural District is supporting Cowden’s exhibition with a $2,000 recovery and rebuilding grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The project is one in which the commission is beginning a process to rehabilitate public art.

At the Gates Lot off Main Street, between Sweetser Park and the Emily Dickinson Museum, the metal sculpture depicting Dickinson and Robert Frost in conversation is being repaired for about $1,200.

The commission is getting local metal fabricator Kamil Peters to refurbish the work, titled “Poetic Dialogue” and completed by artist Michael Virzi in 1996, by removing rust, dents and dings.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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