If age confers respectability, then the giant red-and-blue "clothespins" sculpture at the east end of the University of Arizona Mall is on its way to becoming a venerable piece of public art.
Completed in 1981, the UA's trademark set of 16-foot-high wishbones, a sculpture titled "Curving Arcades: Homage to Bernini", turns 30 this year. The sculpture itself is by Athena Tacha, a Washington, D.C.-based public artist whose work appears around the globe.
But while the sculpture has become a familiar part of the campus landscape, the piece, which was commissioned by the UA Museum of Art, was initially met with grumbling both over its price - about $88,000 - and appearance.
Archives from the campus newspaper, the Arizona Daily Wildcat, show that the sculpture was so controversial when it was installed that the student government proposed holding a student referendum during homecoming on whether it should be ripped out.
But years of "Curving Arcades" showing up in promotional brochures and visitors' guides have made the sculpture emblematic of the UA, softening the public's attitude, said Beth Hancock, the public art coordinator for the UA Museum of Art.
"I think anytime you have non-representational art, you may get that kind of reaction. It wasn't a Wildcat, or something identifiable." Hancock said. "But I think people enjoy it now. It's easily the most visible piece we have on the campus, given its location."
A lot of the confusion that has surrounded "Curving Arcades" is that some people think they're not "getting it."
"It doesn't have a deep meaning," Hancock said. "People think they're not 'getting it.' You don't have to."
Up close, there is a lot to appreciate about the piece, she said.
"What it is, is an experience," she said. "When you walk through it, it really has this sense of movement that you don't necessarily get when you're driving by. When you actually walk through it and see the curves, it gives you a sense of vertigo."
"It's just a beautiful piece," she said.
Contact reporter Alex Dalenberg at email@example.com or 807-8429.