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The MECCA is Back
The floor, that is. And the largest pop art painting is on display this Friday.
A piece of the Mecca floor.
How do you do justice to a 7,000-square-foot, 40,000-pound piece of art that has been missing for 20 years? Display it proudly as it was originally meant to be seen, of course.

Friday, Aug. 23 is your last chance to see the original hand-painted MECCA floor in its entirety – the floor that made Milwaukee famous and a huge piece of our city’s history – at the U.S. Cellular Arena (Formerly, The MECCA  at 400 W. Kilbourn Ave.)

The event runs from 6-10 p.m. and is hosted by Bucks broadcasters Jim Paschke and Jon McGlocklin. Reginald Baylor and other contributing artists will also display new works. Milwaukee artist Dwellephant will be on hand creating live art and DJs Andy Noble and Kid Millions will provide the soundtrack to the evening.

For the die-hard basketball fans, you can see historical memorabilia from the Milwaukee Bucks and Marquette Warriors and get out and dribble at center court like legends, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley.

Let me back up and explain the significance of this in case you didn’t watch basketball in the ‘80s. In 1977, Milwaukee commissioned famed pop artist Robert Indiana to paint the court's floor at the MECCA Arena. Not only was it to be (and still is) the world’s largest pop art painting, but also the only fully hand-painted court in the history of the sport.

And the Bucks won their one and only championship on this floor in 1971.

Ben Koller with a piece of the floor.

“This was an important step and part of our creative legacy here in Milwaukee, and it symbolizes the evolution of our creative class, as well as what happens when a city joins together to think big,” says Andy Gorzalski, event organizer. He was actually the one who found the floor on an architectural salvage site and alerted the Bucks’ management, who in turned called Greg Koller, who owned a business installing gym floors.

His son, Ben Koller, now owns the floor and how he ended up with it is a long and fascinating story. When his dad Greg heard about the floor, he squandered his savings to buy it off an auction site in 2010. Greg had a vision, but at the time, no idea of what to do with the floor. A couple years later, soon after he met with creative leaders to discuss a plan for reviving the floor, Greg had a massive heart attack and died. Ben says his life was turned upside down, so he took off on a road trip to “find himself.”

Robert Indiana with a rendering of the MECCA floor.
But then Robert Indiana phoned him personally and asked him to get back to Milwaukee and fulfill his father’s vision. So Ben bought floor from his father’s now-defunct company and will set the wheels in motion this Friday.

Koller is currently working with Jeremy Shamrowicz of Flux Design to fasten the 260 pieces of the floor into a series of interactive and modular sculptures that will be unveiled on Sept. 20 at City Hall, and  will be on display for Doors Open Milwaukee for the rest of that weekend.

The 86-year-old Robert Indiana has been invited to attend, but is preserving his health to travel to the Whitney Museum in September for his first career retrospective.

There is a $10 fee to attend the Aug. 23 event, and keep in mind, this project is totally funded by two self-professed “broke guys.” Tickets available here or at the door.

Whether you are a fan of art, basketball or Milwaukee history, this event is not to be missed.

Hey you! Follow me on Twitter @jkashou and search #GirlAboutTown to stay on top of what’s happening around town.

All images courtesy of Our Mecca Group.

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