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Tom Lee Park in Memphis

Tom Lee Park in Memphis — a 30-acre, mile-long sliver of green along the bank of the Mississippi River — is reopening to the public following a major revamping. A centerpiece is the Sunset Canopy, a 16,000-square-foot pavilion composed of tripod-like steel columns supporting laminated timber beams that are topped by 79 pyramidal roof elements that bring daylight into the interior. The structure, which draws inspiration from the riverfront’s industrial history, contains multiple basketball courts and will serve as a flexible space for community activities and concerts.

James Little - Tom Lee Park in Memphis - Viewing Room - Petzel Gallery

James Little, a Memphis-born artist who is known for his precise works of geometric abstraction translated a painting he created in 2017, called “Democratic Experiment,” for the surface below and around the canopy. The new artwork is a vibrant composition of diagonal bars in shades of blue, green, burnt umber, mustard yellow and chartreuse.

James Little - Tom Lee Park in Memphis - Viewing Room - Petzel Gallery

“At first, I had an issue with the idea of people coming out and playing basketball on top of my image, but I had to get over that,” Mr. Little said. The 71-year-old artist is based in New York and received a late-career boost last year, when he was represented in the Whitney Biennial, a plum that had eluded him for more than four decades.

James Little - Tom Lee Park in Memphis - Viewing Room - Petzel Gallery

The 20,000-square-foot pavilion artwork helped him confront his fear of doing work at a very large scale, he said. And he is now embracing the interactive and democratic nature of the project, which brings art to citizens who may not typically visit museums. “The piece is something that no one should feel uninvited to — it’s literally for the people,” he said.

Text excerpt from "A Reinvented Park Along the Mississippi River" by Beth Broome. Read the article in The New York Times.