By Mary McCarty Staff Writer
Dayton Daily News Sunday, June 29, 2008 Ever notice the lengths to which we go any more to avoid contact with real, live people? We e-mail co-workers in the next cubicle. We chat on the cell phone while having lunch with a friend. Kids text friends riding the same school bus. I've even heard some explain their aversion for any form of communication except texting: "I don't like to hear the sound of someone's voice. It's annoying." At first blush, downtown's Invasion of the Sculpture People might seem part of the same disturbing trend. For the second consecutive year, downtown's most popular summer visitors have been the life-sized — and, from a distance, lifelike — sculptures of people at work and play. The 20 sculptures in "CityLife '08: A Downtown Sculpture Walk by J. Seward Johnson" are charming and fun, but they're far from the cutting edge of modern art. With their bronzed complexions and bland expressions, they look a bit like Ken dolls whose owners got a hold of some gold spray paint. They're more likely to end up in a Museum of Kitsch than the Guggenheim or the Dayton's own Visual Arts Center (DVAC). But they've attracted fans in unlikely places — among them DVAC executive director Jane Black. "It encourages people to stop and look around, and to use their eyes in a conscious way," she said. "They make people think, 'What comes next?' It opens them up to things that are a little more challenging and indigenous to our culture here in Dayton." They have succeeded in luring people downtown. "I have seen so many people come downtown to look at the sculptures, and then they stop in at our gallery for the first time," Black said. And then, who knows what could happen? "The next thing you know, they'll be into mixed-media abstract conceptual installations," she said, "but nobody starts with that." When the sculptures arrived last summer, Black experienced many "Is it live or is it Memorex" moments: "I would see someone from far away, and assume it was one of those sculptures. And then they would get up and move away. It was freaky and interesting." I find myself looking more closely at the people on the street, wondering whether they're real or not. And I notice things I don't notice when I view downtowners as an anonymous stream of humanity. The Cooper Park lawn outside the Main Library proved a particular puzzler: Was it the guy snoozing in the grass, a newspaper spread over his face? No, it was the mother and son reading a book, their legs crossed. Longtime friends Phil DeVeny of Columbus and Speed Dillon of Kettering admired the sculpture of a husband and wife birdwatching. "They're neat," DeVeny observed. "They give you something to look at." Dillon chuckled over the spectacle of a woman goosing one of the male sculptures — a liberty she wouldn't take, presumably, with a real-life passerby. "They're so lifelike," Dillon said of the sculptures, "but they don't go anywhere." He and DeVeny were off to the Pine Club with their wives to celebrate wedding anniversaries, an outing the sculptures might well envy. It's easy to picture that, because the figures are so lifelike, with a couple of notable exceptions: They are all actively engaged in life, and with each other. And nobody is carrying a cell phone.Mom, Bill, Dan and I went to downtown in Dayton to view the City Life sculptures. We enjoyed the experience and even got in on the act a wee bit... Let ME Push her!