Rob Gentile's reaction to the new artwork on the front of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is appropriate: "Oh, my God."
Gentile, who has parked his Roadside Dogger food truck in front of the Main Street museum on weekdays for 10 years, was reacting to Jack Pierson's work mounted over the museum's main entrance, which is merely three letters — OMG — made from salvaged signage.
"It's brought some color to the building. It's nice," Gentile said Tuesday.
The white, black and red "OMG" lights up at night in the middle of the relatively monochromatic, tan Gothic Revival facade. The artist himself described this effect as something "Vegas-y" in the middle of a building that "looks kind of like a chess piece."
Museum officials say the sign is the first in a series of contemporary art projects planned for the front of the Hartford landmark, whose castle-like exterior dates to 1842. How long "OMG" will be up and what is coming next has not yet been determined, museum spokeswoman Amanda Young said. Pierson estimated that it will be up for at least a year.
Passersby at midday Tuesday reacted to the artwork.
"What is that? I thought it was a sign for something. Is it an artwork?" asked August Cadorette, who has worked downtown for 17 years.
"What does it mean? What is it for? What is its significance?" said a woman who did not identify herself.
"It doesn't fit in. I like the old buildings," said Laurie Edwards, who also works downtown. "Is it staying there?"
Sam Schrager, president of the board of Bushnell Plaza apartments, across the street from the Atheneum, loves it. "I like those kinds of bold artworks that we don't get a lot of in Hartford," he said.
Members of a Facebook group called Dwelling in Downtown had a lively chat about it Monday night and Tuesday morning. Reactions were varied:
•"I'm all for artistic juxtaposition but in this particular case I don't think it works too well."
•"I love it. Loosens up the stiffness."
•"Aesthetically, it's not my taste and it annoys me somewhat because it disturbs the visual institution of the beautiful architecture. However, art in any moment is not supposed to be for everyone."
•"After that first jolt, I think it's way fun!"
•"It's funny and antique letter signs are cool-looking."
One commenter on that thread referred to "the 'Yard Goats' effect": "Some people love it, some people hate it, but at the end of the day people are talking about it and taking photos and that's all a business really wants, right?"
Marta Bentham, who joined the board of the Atheneum after years as a liaison between the museum and the city schools, has a unique take on Pierson's artwork: It's not just eye-catching, it's a sign that the museum staff listens to the community.
"There were several community forums with families and students. Some of them were saying that the museum is so historic and the Gothic facade is so beautiful but it inhibits some people from coming in," Bentham said. "We wanted to see something that reflected now."
"The families, when they see that, we know that the museum heard what we were saying," she added. "The museum staff went for it. With this artwork they have made a statement: We have heard you."