Justice Meets Joy

The modern federal courthouse unveils The Austin Wall by Clifford Ross, invites the public in

Modern federal courthouse unveils The Austin Wall by Clifford Ross

The Austin Wall
The Austin Wall Photo by Caitlin Ryan
The Austin Wall detail
Detail of The Austin Wall. Photo Courtesy of Polskin Arts & Communications Counselors
The Austin wall creator Clifford Ross
The Austin Wall artist Clifford Ross. Photo by Caitlin Ryan
View from the courthouse
The view from the Federal Courthouse. Photo by Caitlin Ryan
The Austin Wall
The Austin Wall detail
The Austin wall creator Clifford Ross
View from the courthouse

Though the thought of a courthouse may warrant fear and anxiety, Austin was reminded on Tuesday night that it's also a place of celebration and delight. 

The downtown federal courthouse, which opened in late December, celebrated the official unveiling of a landmark art installation by artist Clifford Ross with a community reception and conversation with Ross.

At 28 square feet and nearly 9,000 pounds, The Austin Wall is a facade of vibrant stained glass which "functions in part as a pair of pivoting, motor-driven doors, which can be opened to create a public event space," as explained by Polskin Arts & Communications Counselors. 

The project for the modern courthouse designed by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects was five years in the making for Ross, whose work has been featured at the Met, the Guggenheim and The Getty museums. "I wanted to make art that is a part of the building, honoring the architects," Ross said to the assembled crowd. "That was the genesis of my thinking."

That idea eventually manifested itself as an artwork comprised of two contrasting parts: The lower portion of The Austin Wall functions as doors to the jury room and features a panoramic black and white image of a landscape in the nearby Hill Country; the upper portion features an abstract composition made up of colorful rectangles, floating in various directions.

Upon closer examination, viewers see that the rectangles in the upper portion are actually close-up, repeat images of foliage in assorted hues. "I'm deeply devoted to the [natural] world and the abstract world," Ross explained. "I think I got this project partly in part because I speak both languages."

Ross was quick to say he couldn't have completed the project without the help of Franz Mayer of Munich and architects Scogin and Elam who were instrumental in the engineering and manufacturing of the wall, which was commissioned by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), Art in Architecture & Fine Arts Program

Ross and the City of Austin hope that, with the help of The Austin Wall, the federal courthouse will be viewed as a civic building open for public enjoyment and use.

"You have to make art which relies on people looking at it in participating in it. This thing doesn't exist for me without the audience," said Ross. "Exuberance is not at odds with justice."

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For more information on The Austin Wall, you can pre-order Clifford Ross: Through the Looking Glass, a coffee table book which documents the making of the installation. The federal courthouse is located at 501 W 5th Street.