Photo Courtesy of  Courtesy og Tom Sachs Studio

Miffy Fountain

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born 1966
Art Type
Media / Materials
Year Completed
2008 (installation projected Fall 2018)
Gift in Memory of Melva Bucksbaum from her daughter Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan, and sons Gene Bucksbaum and Glenn Bucksbaum. Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation Collection, 2018.
Latitude & Longitude
41.58569862862475, -93.63148745424502
Location Description
Miffy Fountain will be located in Western Gateway Park, along Locust Street on the south grounds of the Central Public Library.

All is flux, nothing stays still.

A Greek quotation attributed to Heraclitus: “All is flux, nothing stays still”  is an appropriate way to begin to talk about Miffy Fountain. 

The sight and sound of moving water is both stimulating and entrancing. Throughout history, people have attempted to shape and control this elusive element in fountains. From the beginning, fountains have been rife with symbolic connotations.  Certain commonalities are inherent in the properties of water, but ways for its display have been far ranging. All cultures associate water with spiritual blessing.  Over centuries and across nations, artists, architects, landscape and garden designers, hydraulics experts, and engineers have collaborated to exploit the refreshing, soothing, and theatrical potential of water—with the result that fountains grace every major city in the world.

The artist Tom Sachs explores the fountain’s function as an icon and metaphor.  Miffy Fountain (2008) is the first, long-term fountain which the artist has created. This public art project will be integrated into Des Moines’ Western Gateway Park as an urban oasis in the Fall of 2018. 


Miffy Fountain As Icon

Miffy is a character recognized globally as a symbol of childhood. Drawn in a minimalist style by the Dutch author of the Miffy series of books, her youthful adventures in growing up sometimes include events that make her cry, such as losing a favorite toy (as in Miffy is Crying) and even the death of her grandmother. Beyond the stories, however, Miffy is a brand of products, such as nightlights and posters, sold to children in an unending stream of merchandising. 


Miffy Fountain As Metaphor (Symbolic Connotation)

The American artist Tom Sachs uses the image of the little bunny to comment on the commercialization of every human experience, no matter how innocent or traumatic, to sell these products. The 10-foot-tall fountain — in the form of Miffy was created as part of  “The Bronze Collection” with her equally cute friend Hello Kitty — both are described as “merchandising icons” with “an almost Buddhist sense of nothingness.”

Sachs enlarged the petite Miffy to monumental scale and then used her tears to create a fountain. The millions of Miffy images are slick, simple and insubstantial, but Sachs made his version in an obviously hand-made way and then cast it in bronze, a very expensive material used throughout history for grand statues. By revealing the work of his own hands and then using the ageless bronze, he reminds us of the human sensibility that underlies great art and literature.

With water spilling from the eyes, the fountain figure weeps into pools of its own tears. Miffy Fountain was first exhibited in New York City, in the moneyed canyons of corporate America, which faced financial collapse in 2008, they may be appreciated as emblems of shared misery. 

Much of the artist’s work is in mixed media and assemblage. Tom Sachs’ sculptures, which often mimic mass-produced objects, make use of humble materials and tools — Scotch tape and plywood, screwdrivers and vice grips — and the finished products have a deliberately scruffy quality, with glue drips, duct-tape traces and the ragged edges of jigsaw-cut wood left visible, emphasizing what Sachs calls the “scars of labor.”


Detail of “Miffy Fountain”


The Site

Today, fountains are often part of urban development schemes and the shift is from scenographic displays to improvisational theater.

The proposed site for Miffy Fountain (2008) takes advantage of the very public ground exterior space along Locust Street in downtown Des Moines.  Miffy Fountain is unique because it made of cast bronze and functions as an outdoor fountain. The work of art is numbered “2” from an edition of five.  Not including the cast bronze pool, the dimensions of the Miffy-figure are: H. 108 x W. 48 x D. 48 inches; H. 9 x W. 4 x D. 4 feet; the base dimensions are H. 14.4 x W. 96 x D. 96 in; H. 1.2 x W. 8 x  D. 8 ft.


Rendering by gēnus [landscape architects] of “Miffy Fountain” at proposed site in Des Moines, Iowa, 2018.

[Tom Sachs artwork calls special attention to the way commodities can be reexamined and re-contextualized through their representation as art objects. First modeled from small, mass-produced toy prototypes of the character, Miffy was created in part to comment on, as Sachs relates:]

“...this merchandising icon that exists only as a licensed character.” By rendering this character “in a ‘fine’ material like bronze,” he adds, “it’s re-contextualizing and shifting it back to a high level.”

Tom Sachs

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