Wednesday, February 04, 2009

"Take Me Out To The Ball Game"

UPDATE: Although I used the title "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" to signify the use of this famous song in Walter's latest art commission, Mr. Kravitz did ask me to remind everyone the actual artwork will be called "The Ball Game".

“My first feeling was that I wanted this to be more of a celebration," stated Walter Kravitz. "A general celebration of baseball and to have the team aspect linger a little bit—to imply Major Leagues, but not totally be of The Major Leagues. In fact, I think I would lose a lot of the color if it had to be all Major League.”

Mr. Kravitz was eyeing his latest public art commission work, the rotating "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" display which he hopes to unveil at Nationals Park during the first week of April, 2009. To be located on the main concourse at Nationals Park, between the First Base Entry Gate and First Base Field Box Seats, this rather large mobile is nearing it's final installation stage. And Walter wanted to give fans of Our Washington Nationals an update on what to expect with his latest project when they attend baseball games on South Capitol Street in 2009. As you may recall, Walter was granted this commission by The D.C. Commission On The Arts & Humanites. For nearly 18 Months, "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" has been in the works.

Recently, Mr. Kravitz, a George Mason University Art Professor, and I caught up at his Art Studio in Washington, DC. "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" has transformed from his original idea on paper, to a small scale model and now on to what is soon to become the real thing. Colorful and Large are good descriptions. Once completed--four circular armatures with various polycarbonate baseball players depicted--playing the game--will hang from the joists near the first base concourse area at Nationals Park. Continuously, while rotating, the now famous "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" song will be played in approximately 8 different variations. Total time until the song repeats--two minutes.

“There are references to some Major League Teams, The Cubs, The Pirates and even The Nationals. But there are variations of uniforms and I deliberately kept it that way," said Mr. Kravitz. "I did bring in some Washington colors, including The Redskins colors—burgundy and gold. There are even references to team uniforms from The Dominican Republic."

And where did you come up with using the colorful uniforms?

“I took it basically from a painter’s pallet. Painters are given primary colors. They are given secondary colors and they are given tertiary colors (a mixture of the secondaries)—which goes more toward what are called the earth colors. Basically, I said I was going to use the primary colors and secondary colors. So what you see, besides white and black, is all the primary and secondary colors. In fact, when I was done, I noticed that I didn’t have enough greens. So the last four or five figures became mostly green.”

And that is why is this a general celebration of baseball, and not specifically The Major Leagues? (SBF)

“The idea of baseball is not only focused on various large cities across this country, but it’s played everywhere. It’s played in the west, the east, and the south and the north. You would be surprised how many teams there are in the northern states and they find a way to play. They find a way to play with energy and activity and they might draw a thousand people to their games. And you will find players at pretty high levels playing and it's very enjoyable to go to one of those games. These are players that would never be of Major League Quality, but you still get the drama and the joy of watching a baseball game with players that are pretty good. They do make some errors and you might see a fast pitcher that will dominate some times (20 to 24 strikeouts per game). But on the other hand, you see a great variety of uniforms—depending on who the sponsors are. Now, we are not talking only about Single A, Double AA and Triple AAA Teams. We are talking about teams that are supported by their communities—lodges, cities, factories—sort of like bowling leagues. So there is an awful lot of energy from people who don’t necessarily go to see Major League Games-but they want to see a live event.”

Let's talk about the final piece. How will it look?

“The mobile will be rotating on a regular basis. Each armature will have a motor that is going to rotate in about 12 seconds—to make the entire rotation. You are not going to be able to sit and study it like a piece of sculpture—an individual figure—as it’s going to pass you. It’s more like a carousel at an amusement park where you enter into the event rather than study it. The hope is that with the motion and the continuous motion of four of them that the motion will take over. So the singular figure that people can recognize by team color or by team name won’t be important at all--because the movement and motion takes over.”

Some of these figures are huge? Will your space hold them all? (SBF)

“Here’s the thing. They are going to overlap each other. They are not all going to fit on the rim of the armature. They are going to fit over each other so there will some implication of some space—like an event going on.”

Explain the over accenting of the action and why that is important? (SBF)

“In order to tell a story you need to exaggerate the figure, turn the figure into almost impossible gestures. So in order to tell my story, I needed to develop celebration, joy and a likeness about baseball. Don’t get too heavily involved in statistics here. This is about lightness, exaggeration and about having a good time with baseball. I am sure some coaches will look and say: ‘I never taught my kids to do it that way!’ I will accept that. (Laughing) But I have borrowed just as much from gesture in art than from watching Major League Baseball live or on the television for this project.”

“At first I thought it might be interesting not to have any skin color at all and just to have, where the skin will be, transparent—just have the line work. Have the uniform colors, but just leave the polycarbonate, which is translucent, blank—so I wouldn’t raise skin color as an issue. But The Commission, when they were over here (looking at the update figures), felt that skin color was important to show the various races who participate in this game now—and that includes many Latin-Americans today.”

Do you have any favorites among your many players produced? (SBF)

“I like the Cuban-X guy. The pitcher who reminds me of Bob Gibson (of The St.Louis Cardinals) in the 60’s and 70’s. He was a fierce competitor and when I sat behind the plate at Wrigley Field watching him (Walter grew up in Chicago)—he was just frightening. If he was frightening to a fan, can you imagine what he would be like to any hitter? So, that figure was developing with him in mind. I also had memories of seeing Hank Aaron, who was also a great fielder too. I recall seeing him leap up against the Wrigley brick wall with all the vines and catch the ball. Man, that guy was impressive. So, that’s how I remember Hank Aaron.”

How many total figures are there? (SBF)

“I made 48, however, the armatures have become smaller in order to make sure they will fit. We’ve done some measuring at the park. There might be only 40 at the end—about 10 per armature—which means I will have about 8 to 10 to put around various offices at the ballpark.”

Where are you at in production right now? (SBF)

“The armatures are being built. The motors have to be built from scratch. The timing mechanism needs to be added to that motor. And the rotational level needs to be correct. That should be completed and delivered by the first week in February. The hope is that by the end of February, and I think we should be able to do this, everything will be up. The motors and armatures first and those need to be tested. We need to make sure they are not affected too much by the wind. The weight of the figures is going to help in that respect. But if the armatures bend too much by the wind, then we are going to have to add a strong cord to the middle, going down from the joist.”

“But after the armatures and the motors are up, and the lighting is put up, and the sound—after all that—we will start to hang the figures. And as you can guess, the figures have to balance on the armature; otherwise, there will be a problem. So, that is going to take a little bit of time to work out. There was hope that the figures could be hung by what is called an ‘airline cable’—or aircraft cable—a cable that can support 200 pounds (each figure weighs five pounds). It’s safe in public places. But I have a feeling that the cable, which is flexible, will allow too much wind. This is an area of the stadium where there are outside steps, where wind whips through the concourse to the field—which is open on the first base side. The wind might take these figures too much. So I am going to bring along some aluminum bars (1/4”) to stabilize the cables on the armatures—that should do the trick.”

“Everything will be built at the ballpark. But before I go to the ballpark (for installation), I am going to group the those figures hanging together because I have to put rivets in them to make sure they hold. I will most likely have to put weight on the armatures themselves to help balance out the project.”

Has the music turned out as you originally planned? (SBF)

“The music is being brought in by a colleague of mine at George Mason University, who is a composer. Some one who is thrilled about this project because he does a lot of quirky things. He took this project on with relish. I wanted a fugue or a round where the ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game’ song is played out in various ways, sung by various people, and played by various instruments and maybe by groups. He said: ‘that’s not going to happen. It’s too expensive to bring all these people together into a sound studio to record them. The only way this is going to happen is if I do it electronically.' He’s going to mimic the various sounds. He’s going to collage them together and take the idea of gesture and comedy to be a part of the music. And he can mimic any instrument.”

“You will hear the song starting, then another rendition of the song will overlap the previous rendition. Then over and over again like ‘row, row, row your boat’—but in eight different ways—all in the same key. It’s going to be a lot of fun.” (About a 2 minutes cycle) There is even talk (by The Nationals), if they like how everything works out, putting it out on the sound system, sometimes, during the 7th inning stretch.”

A unisphere speaker will be place in the center of the rotating armatures. Walter says the song will not be played at a level to disturb those sitting in their seats nearby--watching any ball game. Diffused light fixtures will shine down from the joists--allowing for the polycarbonate figures to pass through the light. Mr Kravitz hopes to begin installation of the project in either late February or early March--with hopes of having the entire project completed two weeks before it's public unveiling for final testing.

With "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" playing throughout, Walter hopes fans will get into the spirit of his newest public art commission: "I hope these formal things—color, gesture, shape—will stick with the viewer longer than any individual figure and his gesture. I want them to remember the feeling, just like as if you were at an amusement park.”

PS--Walter wanted to publicly thank two of his George Mason University Interns--Angela Douglas & John Utoff--who have given their free time to work with Mr. Kravitz on his "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" work. “For the bigger projects, I really try to get students involved," says Walter. "In fact, I think it’s the best way to teach, having everyone working on the same project. It allows me to teach through a project I know has classical elements—tone, shape and shadow—so they can practice themselves.”

All Photos--Copyright Nats320--All Rights Reserved


Anonymous said...

Whenever you see ballpark ratings, they don’t usually include stuff like this. I think Nationals Park, with all the memorabilia they have throughout, the Hall of Famers on the columns, the history boards, the history timeline on the south side, and now this mobile, would benefit if these things are considered.

Anyway, thanks for the pre-view.

Oxhead said...

I love this. His figures remind me of Thomas Hart Benton.

Although I do like the art, I have to say (and I realize it's un-PC for a white guy to complain about racial representation), does he know that white people do play baseball? I see maybe two white guys in the whole panoply.

Also, would it be out of line to show woman playing? If he's not showing major league baseball, why not include some women batting or throwing a softball...or even a baseball? As the father of two girls, I think that would be cool.

An Briosca Mor said...

I was not really enamored of this artwork when you first reported on it last season, SBF, and even though it looks like the artist may have addressed one of my big complaints then (that he had players grouped into action sequences that would never occur in an actual baseball game), I still find that I don't really like it much. I don't have any problem with the depiction of individual players or the colors of the uniforms, but the overall installation still looks way too busy. Baseball is a pastoral game, with players spread out across a big green field. Rarely if ever do you find more than two players in close proximity to each other at any given time. Add in an umpire and you have at most three people in any given action sequence. These mobiles with their tight groupings of so many players in action look like they will evoke the games of soccer, football or even lacrosse more than they will baseball. Also, the description of the continuously-playing music makes it seem like the whole thing will have a cheesy music-box feel to it. (Although I suppose I should at least be grateful they didn't choose "Variations on a Theme of Sweet Caroline" for the soundtrack.) I certainly hope I'm wrong with this preliminary assessment, and that the real thing will blow me away once I see it installed. But I'm not optimistic.

Tom said...

Are you the only one doing any reporting on anything about the Nationals??
PS when did the equipment truck leave for Florida?


Anonymous said...

Reminds me of the "Good Times" mural that was shown during the into/ exit song.