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IN Case You Were Wondering: Noguchi's Playscapes

By Bobbi Kornblit

 Most artwork is meant to be seen and not touched. World-renowned sculptor Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) discarded this notion when he created Playscapes, an artistic playground installed in Piedmont Park in 1976.

Generations of Atlanta’s children have jumped on, slid down and climbed over the assortment of geometric-shaped equipment in the circular one-acre site near the 12th Street entrance to the park.

Orange metal triangular poles support the soaring swing-set. Blue and green climbing concrete blocks, a red jungle gym, and a double-sided metal slide look more like modernist sculptures than recreation apparatus. Recurring motifs – circles, triangles and rectangles – create a visually exciting play space situated on a rise in the tree-lined landscape. The playground also includes a large circular sand pit, a climbing dome, a pavilion, and a spiral-shaped slide that is currently off-limits to kids.

Playscapes was the centerpiece of the “Art in the Park” project for the Atlanta Bicentennial, sponsored by the High Museum of Art and the City of Atlanta. After 30 years of continual use, the three-dimensional artwork is showing its age – chipped paint, graffiti and other signs of vandalism and vagrancy. Along with a general clean-up, the play elements must be modified to meet updated safety regulations.

The City of Atlanta’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs has taken up the mission to preserve Playscapes as an artistic treasure. Eddie Granderson, public arts manager of the City of Atlanta, heads a task force of neighborhood groups and the Piedmont Park Conservancy that are working together to restore, conserve and maintain the installation.

Granderson strives to respect the artist’s original intent while conforming to new safety statutes. “This is a public art piece,” he said. “Isamu Noguchi is now deceased, and his legacy lives on in terms of a Playscape in Piedmont Park, the only one in America completed during his lifetime.”

Chris Nelson, chief operating officer of the Piedmont Conservancy, a nonprofit organization working in partnership with the City of Atlanta to maintain the park, said: “From our perspective, we would like to see the piece preserved, not only as a piece of art, but also as a playground. We are delighted to hear that the city is going to make those much needed repairs.”

The city is working with New York-based Jablonski Berkowitz Conservation Inc. to begin an assessment of the condition of the playground’s materials in mid-September. The firm will consider the changes required to bring the pieces up to current safety codes and to restore the work to its original colors.

The uneven height of the climbing blocks, the radius of the swings and the arrangement of the monkey bars are examples of concern that will be assessed by the conservators.

Art conservator Mary Jablonski said: “It’s a wonderful playground in the sense that a sculptor designed it. Because it isn’t generic, it has to be exciting for kids to see something different. We want to make it safe enough so children can continue to play with a piece of sculpture.”

Although the 2005 Parks, Green Space and Recreation Opportunity Bond will finance much of the restoration, Granderson hopes an endowment will be created to ensure the maintenance of what Noguchi called “a sculptural landscape.”

“If it is going to be a kinetic, ongoing, used environment, you’ve got to be realistic about the fact that you are going to have to maintain it,” Granderson said.

American-born Isamu Noguchi studied and worked in Japan and Europe, as well as in the United States. He expanded his repertoire of sculpture to include the creation of garden and playground installations with geometric forms where people connect with artwork in a natural setting. He wanted to make art a part of everyday life.

For more information about Isamu Noguchi, To donate to the restoration of Playscapes, checks made out to City of Atlanta Public Art Trust Fund may be sent to:

City of Atlanta, Office of Cultural Affairs
City Hall East, 675 Ponce DeLeon Ave., NE
Atlanta, GA 30308