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Governments and corporations undertake public art projects to demonstrate an interest in their communities, but they do so carefully: Work that offends even a few could become an expensive embarrassment. It’s remarkable, then, how much truly subversive public art has made it onto the Clarendon corridor between Rosslyn and Ballston. For your summer-strolling enjoyment, we assembled this guide to Arlington’s brightest artistic lights.
“Kinetics by the Yard” (2002) (above) Lynn and 19th streets, Rosslyn
A shimmering sea of glittering pixels, constantly in motion but never resolving, the tetraptych “Kinetics by the Yard” magically floats in four enormous architectural frames. A critique of contemporary media, the piece presents four alternative “channels”—and there’s nothing worth watching on any of them. (Real name: “Liquid Pixels”)
Arrows Pointing, Variously! (1994) Wilson Boulevard and Nash Street, Rosslyn
While the delightful cacophony of “Arrows Pointing, Variously!” might seem a wry comment on the sculpture’s traffic-island location, it’s actually a critique of the dizzy liberalism of the Arlington County Board. (Real name: “Cupid’s Garden”)
Stack of Rocks? (1988) Clarendon Road and Cleveland Street, Courthouse
It is likely that the first earthworks were stacked rocks. By presenting a façade of stacked rocks on a solid base, the artist invites us to question the role of authenticity in art and culture. (Real name: “Invisible Forces”)
“Golden Showers Pyramid” (c. 1993) Wilson Boulevard and Stewart Street, Ballston
Shattering conventional expectations of what a public fountain should be, “Golden Showers Pyramid” eschews the easy charms of geysers that form patterns or graceful arcs. Instead water is lazily projected upward—only to fall back onto the pyramidal base and run into a murky, constantly recycled pool below. (Real name: “Untitled”)
“Memorial to the Unknown Child” (1998) Stuart Street, a half block north of Wilson Boulevard, Ballston
Possessing maturity beyond her years, a child tenderly waters a garden, seemingly understanding that while her time on this earth will be short, the great circle of life will continue. Facing her fate with such maturity and serenity, she challenges the viewer to be a little less whiny about the food at nearby Ted’s Montana Grill. (Real Name: “Mackenzie’s Garden—There Now You Can Grow, ‘A Celebration of Children Everywhere’”)
“Shimmering Turd” (2006)
Glass, steel, and stone—”Shimmering Turd” could have been formed in the lower intestine of a god. An ever-changing holographic “light show” plays across the work’s surface like a spectral bacterial colony. It is best appreciated at dusk, but will not disappoint at midday, either. (Real name: “The Flame”)