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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — David Rudolph has always had a knack for making.

He was a mechanic. He handcrafted furniture and built sets for television series. He even invented the mechanism that allowed animatronic creatures’ faux eyeballs to rotate in any direction, to the delight of his Disney bosses.

Then, discovering a lively modernist-cubist style, the New York native embarked on a long and varied career as a sculptor and painter, making the type of artwork he wanted to make in Southern California and for the past 12 years in Santa Fe.

Rudolph’s popular interactive Railyard installation, Big Picture T.V., invites passers-by to indulge the instinct.

“It awakens people’s creativity,” said Rudolph, 68. “I’ve seen people go in there, and they just become a different person.”

A three-dimensional white concrete television, with an interior made to look like a late-night talk show set, the piece encourages folks to step in and have their own personal “Heeeere’s Johnny!” moment. Sit behind the desk and play-act like Larry Sanders, or deliver your best Letterman squint.

Simple. Pretty fun.

With a prominent Paseo de Peralta location — in front of the Studio Center of Santa Fe (formerly called Warehouse 21) and across from the well-trafficked Santa Fe Farmers Market — the 10-foot-tall piece has become a sort of impromptu destination or gathering place — a ‘Look, ma, I’m on TV!’ experience for the Instagram set.

“We finally got our own reality show,” one social media photographer wrote of a family snapshot in the television set.

“This is adorable!” one commenter wrote. “What night are you guys on? I’ll set the DVR.”

“Interviewing the locals,” reads the caption on another Railyard chat show tableau.

“where is this????” a commenter demands.

Rudolph says this sort of communal space was precisely his idea when he first had the urge to contribute a piece of public art.

“I wanted it to be functional, and that goes back to making furniture,” he said. “How would people live with it? It had to be interactive. I was constantly thinking of ways to make it more inviting.”

Big Picture is new to Santa Fe, but the piece dates to 1999. For almost two decades, it sat in downtown Hollywood outside a production company’s offices.

Rudolph’s curator, Craig Anderson, estimates a few hundred thousand Angelenos passed through the sculpture over the years, stopping to sit for lunch and taking selfies.

A few years back, the production company was considering a move, and Rudolph received an offer from someone who wanted to buy Big Picture. Something had to be done with the piece, but a sale didn’t seem right, he said. Instead, he had the sculpture shipped from California last year.

“You should have seen the size of the envelope,” Rudolph deadpanned.

The length of the sculpture’s deployment in the Railyard is not clear. It’s been there since fall of 2016, but the Railyard Master Plan stipulates that public art may not remain for more than two years, said Richard Czoski, executive director of the Santa Fe Railyard Community Corp., a nonprofit organization that manages the city-owned Railyard property.

“It’s definitely not indefinite,” Czoski said.

Perhaps another move would be fitting. Rudolph, who invites anyone who takes a photo with or in the television screen to share it and tag the Big Picture Instagram account, said his original vision was to mass-produce the concrete television sets and establish them in cities across the globe, with some form of early-internet digital link allowing communication between people sitting in the far-flung sets.

The technical side of that mid-’90s idea might seem quaint, Rudolph said with a laugh. “Everyone’s got the connection now in their pocket,” he said. But the concept, a web of people sharing their simultaneous experience with a piece of art, still fits.

Anderson, the curator, said of Rudolph: “He thinks that big all the time. He’s interested in things that bring people together.”

“I think that’s the artist’s job,” Rudolph said. “Some artists think they have to project a negative image to get a response. And I respect that. But for me it’s always up, up, up.”

In that vein, the fact that Big Picture T.V. has never fallen victim to graffiti through the years suggests, to Rudolph, the piece does connect.

“If something speaks to you, you won’t mess with it,” he said.


Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican,