The first of four artists is in town to put up artwork the city commissioned for the new Central Library.

More than 10 years have elapsed since the city first announced it would take ideas for the library’s art. Public art is a fascinating and sometimes frustrating timeline. The artists submit an idea and find out their piece has been selected, but it still can take years before they’re invited back to actually realize the plan.

“Should I be incorporating this project into my estate planning?” one of the artists joked with me when I wrote about the library lag a couple of years ago.

But they do it because a lot of times, projects like these are among the biggest, most ambitious art pieces they’ll ever make, displayed in prominent places.

The artist in town this week is Philadelphia sculptor Donald Lipski. Lipski’s piece comprises thousands of books, attached with their pages out to the wall of an auditorium.

Here are some photos of Lipski’s team installing the piece.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

The intervening time didn’t change his plan, Lipski said when I talked with him in 2011:

Luckily for the library planners, Lipski still likes the wall encrusted with books he proposed so many years ago.

“From my point of view I’m still very excited about the piece,” he said.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

One of the most interesting things to me about this time gap is the way the pieces sound different in 2013 than in 2002. One of the artists is making screensavers, animations and video pieces that would play on the library’s computer system. I don’t hear the word “screensaver” very much these days.

Lipski, the artist working in the library this week, commented in 2011 on the way time has changed his view of his medium (to say nothing of the fact his piece will be installed in a library):

Lipski said books have an even more romantic appeal to him as a medium than they did when he first imagined his pieces.

“It’s almost like as what a book is physically becomes less and less important in terms of utility — I read things all the time on my iPhone,” he said. “All of that in a sense makes a book, to me, all that more special.”

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

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Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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