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End is nigh for those blue panels along Austin's Lamar Boulevard

Eric Webb
Austin 360
A motorcyclist travels north on Lamar Boulevard under the Fifth Street overpass, passing the art installation "Moments" in 2006. On Thursday, Austin City Council approved the artwork's official removal from the city's public art collection.

Savor your "Moments." Austin City Council on Thursday approved recommendations from the Arts Commission to officially remove several pieces of public art from the city's collection, including one along Lamar Boulevard that's caused plenty of conversation over the years.

You might not know the name of "Moments," an artwork by Austin artist Carl Trominski, but you've surely seen it: a series of 6-foot-high reflective blue panels on the retaining walls of the section of Lamar that passes under the Third Street and Union Pacific Railroad bridges.

The piece, installed in 2003 and found on the drive between Sandra Muraida Way and Fifth Street, was commissioned by the Art in Public Places Program. Council members on Thursday approved the deaccession of "Moments." According to Austin public radio station KUT, which first reported the news, that means the piece can be removed and transferred to the hands of the city Transportation Department.

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Other works of public art that met a similar fate: "Karst Circle" at Austin Fire Station 43/EMS Station 31 on Escarpment Boulevard; "Bicentennial Fountain” at the entrance to Vic Mathias Shores between South First Street and West Riverside Drive; "LAB" along the Lance Armstrong Bikeway from MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) to Airport Boulevard; and the Republic Square Fountain, which no longer exists and formerly was located at Republic Square Park. The Art in Public Places Program made the deaccession recommendations due to the condition of the pieces, according to city documents.

"Moments," seen here in 2006, was installed in 2003. It's long been a source of confusion for some passersby.

"Moments" caused a stir from the beginning. It was the city's first art-in-public-places project to be installed along a road, and its installation caused traffic backups. The piece was meant to evoke impressions of the moments contained in an experience or environment, Jean Graham, a city of Austin art in public places coordinator, told the American-Statesman at the time.

"The designer was thinking, well, you could think of the moments going by as you are waiting under the bridge in traffic," Graham told the paper in 2003. 

In Trominski's submission for the piece's creation, he wrote that the site "is visualized as a Threshold between the Urban Austin and the Natural Austin. The underpass marks a journey through the city's self-image. ... This proposal intends to strengthen the expression and experience of this moment." The signs were to "make abstract reference to musical notes, the motion of a row on Town Lake, and acts (as) a shadow indicator of the day's progression."

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Not everyone picked up on all that. "Moments," which cost $45,000, proved to be a bit of a head-scratcher. In 2005, former Statesman arts writer Jeanne Claire van Ryzin wrote, "Unfortunately the blue panels are too vague to make for a memorable moment in Austin's public art history." Former Statesman transportation reporter Ben Wear wrote in 2006 that the paper got questions "all the time" about what the panels were supposed to be — they resemble street signs with nothing printed on them — as did the city's cultural arts program. 

The confusion from residents over "Moments" caused its artist some, well, confusion.

“I thought it would be fun to do something that people could ignore and not even notice,” Trominski told the late Statesman columnist John Kelso in 2006. Trominski, who beat out about 30 other entrants for the art project, continued, "I had no idea people would get angrier at that than they would at the traffic.”

In 2018, artist Laurie Frick created a colorful temporary installation on top of artist Carl Trominski's "Moments."

In its current form, "Moments" is a shadow of its former self. According to KUT, the piece originally included 12 panels on each side of the underpass and "a solar-powered lighting system that bathed the underpass in blue light at night." The solar panels were eventually stolen and some of the panels were damaged and removed, the station reported.

In 2010, "Moments" got a little makeover, courtesy of colorful knitted and crocheted blankets placed over the panels. The artist behind the textile works, Magda Sayeg (who collaborated with Art Alliance Austin on the project), had Trominski's blessing. In 2018, another temporary refresh by artist Laurie Frick saw the walls painted bright blue with colorful wavy lines and the panels covered in decorative fabric.

So, what's to become of those blue panels? Love them, hate them or ignore them, 17 years is long enough to become a fixture. Trominski requested the following of the city's plan to remove "Moments" from its public art holdings: "I ask that no part of the installation be re-used in any form, and that the removed components be recycled as the City sees fit. I also request (as reasonably possible) to witness the demolition and be provided with one salvaged blue sign and its wall mounting armature."

According to city documents, Austin Public Works Department "has indicated that they prefer to keep the artwork on site" until they can decide on next steps, and that discussions have "centered on removal of the artwork and recycling the raw material."

Also, there's a new mural project on the walls of the underpass: "Be Well," curated by Raasin in the Sun and commissioned by the city's Cultural Arts Division.

But if you want to feel a little blue, drive by "Moments" while you still can.