The Artists Who Gave The Museum Reach Its Flair: Part 2 & The Big Finish!

Jun 13, 2014

It’s already been half a decade since the Museum Reach stretch of the San Antonio River opened to the public. We've been looking at the downtown side of the Reach, but today we move to the far end.

As you take the river barge north of Jones Street, past the San Antonio Museum of Art and round the bend, you come across the Museum Reach’s most talked-about installation. It’s called F.I.S.H.

F.I.S.H. being installed
F.I.S.H. being installed
Credit Mark Menjivar

“The idea just sprang into my mind of a school of fish that seems to be swimming underneath the highway," said New York artist Donald Lipski, whose F.I.S.H. are probably the most-photographed installation.

“I thought the idea of having this little, teeny fish, and having them seven feet long would be terrific,” he said.

The F.I.S.H. are also lit from within.

"Each fish has about a thousand LEDs in it," Lipski said.

The daytime view reveals amazing detail, but the nighttime view adds a whole new dimension.

Donald Lipski's F.I.S.H. at night
Donald Lipski's F.I.S.H. at night
Credit Mark Menjivar

Moving just past the F.I.S.H. we get to the single largest piece of art, Carlos Cortes’ grotto. His installation is a massive, concrete and re-bar hulk with a faux tree trunk, multiple water falls, monstrous faces, religious imagery, inset benches, and a stairway that descends into it from street level.

There’s also a bus bench Palapa on the other side of the river, providing shade in style to passers by and bus riders. The grotto overall is a welcome place for cool contemplation on the sunny walk.

The Grotto just finished, right before dawn
The Grotto just finished, right before dawn
Credit Jack Morgan

The last Museum Reach art overlooks the grotto on the Camden and Newell Street bridges. Artist George Schroeder superheated steel, then pounded it into deceptively soft-looking, wavy plant-life.

“I believe there were 23 panels on that bridge, and each one is a different plant,” Schroeder said.

Massive quantities of hand-shaped steel look down on the grotto from those bridges.

“That was the idea," Schroeder said, "to have these two bridges that are similar but different interpretations of water and plant life throughout the San Antonio River.”

Reflecting on the massive public works project

The Museum Reach cost the tax-paying public $65.6 million, but that money didn’t fund the art that you see in the Museum Reach. That art, plus much of the Pearl barge turnaround area, and the lighting and landscaping on the Reach, was paid for by the San Antonio River Foundation; money raised from private donations.

The foundation's nearly $12 million elevated the project from an attractive flood control project to the art-filled Museum Reach we see today.    

“It really exceeded my greatest expectations,” said former Mayor Phil Hardberger, talking about the business community’s response to the Museum Reach.

"Everybody then got the idea that this is going to be terrific,” said Hardberger.

"I’m just so proud of San Antonio that we were able to do this," said former Mayor Lila Cockrell.

"It just makes me really happy," said River Oversight Committee Co-Chair Irby Hightower. "It’s just so nice to see it being used, it’s just so nice to see how well it’s maturing."

Five years ago as the Museum Reach wound down, the city turned its attention towards the Mission Reach, a more ambitious and sweeping project, and now the San Pedro Springs restoration is on the board. Both endeavors are more expensive than the Museum Reach, and both have the objective to returning their water sources to a better time, albeit with many added improvements.

As to the Museum Reach, it was a build-it-and-they-will-come project. To the city’s credit, come they did. They came, and they built businesses, neighborhoods, and they put money back into the city’s coffers.

"The project already paid for itself by the amount of economic development that it’s spurred," said SARA's Suzanne Scott. 

One can only hope that the lessons learned from the Museum Reach pay the kinds of dividends in subsequent development projects.