During midday Wednesday, a small group of city workers descended on a nook in the concrete wall at the Convention Center DART station off Lamar St., beneath the Kay Bailey Hutchison center. There, they came face to face with a life-sized, silver-painted statue. It was a human figure — kind of — wearing real clothes that had been spray-painted over. It’s hands and face were made of Nerf-like foam and its spine, something tougher. After working for hours, they dislodged the figure from the pavement on which it was mounted — then whisked it away to an undisclosed city storage facility, where it’s now being held.
Pedestrians first took note of the bizarre — but sharply dressed — figure loitering near the platform earlier in the week. Unlike them, he was in no hurry. Also unlike them, his head was that of an octopus, or maybe, some kind of squid.
Closer inspection revealed a plaque, affixed to the pedestal on which the statue stood, that made things even more confusing (and not just because of all the typos):
The plaque bills the statue as a gift to the City of Dallas from famed philanthropist Margaret McDemott, who died last year. It describes the work as a “self-portrait” of John Neely Bryan, the founder of Dallas, then speculates on what went through his head during his later years. It ends on a pointedly metaphysical note, asking “Is the city he began a city in fact or only in shared delusion?”
Bryan, the man depicted, was indeed the our city’s founder as well as a long-ago patient at the former State Lunatic Asylum in Austin. (However, he was not a cephalopod, which is a class of sea-dwelling mollusks that includes octopi, squid and a few other relatives.) Bryan died in 1877, rendering him unavailable for comment. But perhaps someone from the McDermott family, whose name appears at the bottom of the plaque, would have something to say about the artwork …
Reached by phone, Mary McDermott Cook said she had nothing to do with the sculpture, nor did her late mother. “And it’s one of the weirdest sculptures I’ve ever seen,” Cook added.
After a few days, staff off the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, who were as puzzled by the statue as the rest of us, reached out to the city’s (recently renamed) Office of Arts and Culture, to ask whether the work was official public art. After all, it had the city’s logo on it. The office told them no. Then, the cleanup crew arrived.
Despite snatching it up, staffers at the OAC remain curious about who’s behind the statue. “It was well-done,” said Jennifer Scripps, OAC’s director. The only thing is that it wasn’t installed securely on the sidewalk, making it a “public safety hazard.”
Her question now is whether the person behind it might want to reclaim it.
Jeremy Hallock contributed to this report.