February 8, 2009

World's Largest Shuttlecocks - Kansas City, MO

As I start planning my trips to see the curious roadside attractions of the Midwest, I realize the best place to start is at home. Only a half hour drive from my house and just across State Line Road is the world’s largest shuttlecocks. Sadly, most people seem completely incapable of pronouncing the exhibit’s title without tittering and some residents have objected to the name by suggesting the term “birdies” could be used instead. I don’t really see the problem. I played badminton in middle school gym with light rackets and shuttlecocks or birdies. Whatever you call them, they are still giant reminders of my athletic inability.

The shuttlecocks were designed by pop art sculptors Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen for the Nelson-Atkins Museum. Each stands at eighteen feet tall and weighs two and a half tons. If they are not the largest pop art sculptures, then with a combined weight of approximately 10 tons they are probably the heaviest.

The shuttlecocks are part of the Nelson-Atkins' sculpture
garden, which I wandered one particularly sunny afternoon with my mother. She volunteers at the museum and was thrilled to show me her favorite piece in the garden, Standing Figures by Magdalena Abakanowicz. I was excited to share my first little road trip with her. It was a half-hour drive in the warm sun listening to country radio and singing along to Brad Paisely's "Start a Band." When we arrived, we saw other people enjoying the unusually good weather in the garden. People were playing football, looking at the sculptures, and I saw one group reclining by one of the shuttlecocks with a couple dogs. From a distance, the shuttlecocks don't seem intimidating. Just a rather unusual disruption in the lawn. But once you get close you can appreciate not only their sheer magnitude but also the details put into their design. How they seem to carelessly lean and perch, the realistic aspects of their design right down to the texture of the feathers are all impressive. I was especially impressed by their size. At 18 feet tall, they are more three times my height!

The four are spread out around the garden with three on one side of the museum and one on the other. The idea was for them to be spread out as they would be on a court with the museum as a net. Oldenburg and Bruggen were making a statement as much as they were creating an impressive installment. Art was treated as high brow and elite. By designing a piece of athletic equipment in monumental proportions (and with some vulgar connotations to the name), they made art accessible and common place. It was a way of extending art to the everyman. Just from seeing people hanging out around the sculptures, I would say they succeeded.

Travel Time: 1 hour roundtrip
Distance: 30.5 miles roundtrip
Soundtrack: 106.5 FM - The Wolf

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