Friday, November 16, 2007

What Makes for Good (or Bad) Public Art?

The Guardian's Jonathan Jones offers a lively rant against mediocre public art, sparked by the new sculpture at London's St. Pancras train station (The Meeting Place by Paul Day). I won't offer a critique I expect to be taken seriously on work I haven't seen in person (and indeed the photo Jones uses of the piece on his blog is much less interesting than the photo the BBC uses on their site), so I'll allow that this work might have more to offer than Jones seems to think it does, but still, I empathize with his question: "Why do we accept the mixed bag of public commissions that have sprung up all around us?"

Jones steers off onto a figurative vs. non-figurative tangent, but I consider some of the "worst" public art in New York the works (figurative or abstract) that one can't ever see from a vantage point that makes them sensible, so I'll leave him to fight that particular battle.

Still, his post made we wonder what are the criteria that make for "good" or "bad" public art? I don't have strong feelings about figurative vs. abstract. In fact, most of my personal criteria are conceptual in nature. For me, public art must account for, duh, the public. As suggested above, high on my list of pet peeves is work that might look good from the penthouse office window of the CEO who approved it, but is impossible to see in whole from the ground. I mean, who ever had a clear view of Di Suvero’s
Joie de Vivre when it sat in the Holland Tunnel exit rotary? Someone must have, but it certainly wasn't the public, per se.

What criteria do you use?



Blogger the fourth samba said...

I feel Chicago to have the most coherent idea about public art. Its vantage points, its interaction with the public, its non pretensious quality... I'm writing from Phila. and find similar problems here as the ones you mention in NYC.

11/16/2007 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

The rumor has it that Larry Gagosian is donating the Hanging Heart and the Blue Diamond to the Tate and the two sculptures will be installed in sequence with Paul Days sculpture, creating a romantic narrative for travelers.

11/16/2007 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I would agree about Chicago, fourth samba. Excellent considerations overall for their public art. Putting the giant Bears hat on the Picasso being of questionable judgment, but other than that... ;-)

creating a romantic narrative for travelers


11/16/2007 09:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Eric said...

Its Jonathon Jones not James. The greatest work of public art I have ever had the pleasure of living near and with was an abstract bone like bronze sculpture by Henry Moore that was on the brick mall of my undergraduate college SUNY Purchase (over ten years ago). Yes I know his work has been called "a turd on the mall" but the fact that you could sit on at least one of the two parts of this sculpture made it a perfect place to read for hours on a warm and not so warm afternoon. I drew it many times from different vantage points and I even fell asleep while reclining on it several times. If you can't sit and/or sleep on it, it ain't great public art.

11/16/2007 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Its Jonathon Jones not James.

Indeed. My Bad. Corrections made with apologies for blogging uncaffienated.

If you can't sit and/or sleep on it, it ain't great public art.

I do think being able to touch (or somehow interact with / own) a piece is a good requirement for great public art.

11/16/2007 10:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Eric said...

Good addition Ed.

Sorry for proofreading blog entries. I used to do it for a living.

You need to be able to touch/interact/sit on/sleep on public art or otherwise it isn't public art. Just because it is on the sidewalk or visible from the sidewalk doesn't make it any more available to the public than something in the museums or galleries. It begs the question whether or not the gaze alone (sometimes even that isn't available as you noted before) can lead to real ownership. I am sure that one of the true joys the wealthy experience when they purchase big name art works is that they can finally touch the thing, or at least breathe heavily on it without being shooed away by a security guard.

11/16/2007 10:25:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Eric: Not to nitpick, but you said you were a proofreader right before you committed one of those errors which drives me insane, which is misusing the phrase "begs the question." For shame!

Moving on. What I look for in public art is that it engages people. That can involve sitting or climbing on it, but it doesn't have to. I loved Sarah Sze's Corner Plot because it engaged passersby -- you couldn't sit on it, but it invited you to slow down and examine it.

The Fourth Samba criticizes Philadelphia's public art but I think he's ignoring the many murals around the city. You can't fall asleep on a mural but they're very engaging.

11/16/2007 10:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Eric said...

I used "begs the question" in accordance with "common usage" and as we all know, what is common usage can be just plain wrong. Thanks for the correction. In the future you may not want to link to a wikipedia page that has warnings placed all over it to prove your point. Murals are a whole other matter in my mind. Obviously they are made purely for the gaze. I would love there to be murals murals everywhere! Public sculptures on the other hand, have been widely criticized for a few decades now. Picasso's public works came under fire in particular because they were essentially small sculptures made big, without having their placement and context taken into consideration at all. I still think that great public sculpture needs to be touched and interacted with in a tangible physical way. When I am walking the streets of any busy urban center anything at all can be engaging and surreal. Just use your imagination. What I mean is, everything should be engaging, not only those special objects labeled art objects.

11/16/2007 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

Among criteria for "goodness" in public sculpture would, in my opinion, be accessibility, hopefully with an educational bent.

Not talking pablum, but rather work that has some point of contact that the people who are forced to walk by the thing can use, hopefully to get to a better place.

11/16/2007 11:23:00 AM  
Blogger James said...

I have to disagree with the idea that touch is a requirement for great public art too. I think public art that continues to inspire simply by being there is great. I recently switched day jobs here in Manhattan, and I now work near the Chase building with Debuffet's Group of Four Trees, and I love just sitting near it and looking at while eating lunch. I don't even need to walk under it, and in fact, I think that's sort of boring compared to walking around it or viewing it from Nassau street.

11/16/2007 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Eric sez:
In the future you may not want to link to a wikipedia page that has warnings placed all over it to prove your point.

I just wanted to give both sides. I understand how the phrase sounds versus what it means, and that my nitpicking about it is truly insane. I ordinarily wouldn't say anything, but you did say you were a proofreader, and so you should be about as insane as I am.

As far as Picasso's public works, well, I agree with Darby Bannard that Picasso was always best working on a small, human scale, and any time he scaled up -- Guernica, public sculpture -- it was a mistake.

11/16/2007 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I have to disagree with the idea that touch is a requirement for great public art too.

I wouldn't argue for "touch" as an absolute (interact in some fashion is more my point, but "touch" works in a generalized sense).

The notion that any public work is entirely untouchable is problematic for me. It's like the suggestion by some authority that you are not allowed to touch a piece in your own collection. It may not be wise to touch it, but the notion that you can't touch is bothers me. Public art is, to my mind, a gift to the public and as such theirs to touch. If you don't want them touching it, place it in a private context.

11/16/2007 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

I see touch and/or spatial interaction of some direct sort as one manifestation of an aspect of accessibility. Thinking now Carl Andre's stone piece in Hartford and Calder's big pieces you can walk around. Most anything at Storm King. You can move around and through them.

11/16/2007 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Storm King is hardly a public space, though. It's more of an outdoor museum. It's very special: Interacting with art there is a totally different experience from interacting with art "on the street."

11/16/2007 11:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Eric said...

Listen we are in the same very small minority. We all think art is important and completely relevant to the rest of our lives. So of course it is nice to see more art in the public sector. Who wouldn't love to have as many sculptures in the streets of NYC as they do in Italy? That isn't going to happen though. Does anyone here remember the “exhibition of 21 "installation artists" (or teams of artists) sponsored by the municipally run 42nd Street Development Project and by a cultural group, naturally funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, calling itself Creative Time Inc."? This happened in the eighties and it was the most amazing public arts event I have ever experienced. It truly reconfigured my psyche and you couldn’t touch any of it. The use of existing storefronts and marquees was brilliant. Many of the installations were unsettling, surreal, and critical.

11/16/2007 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger Ries said...

Definitions are always important.

What, exactly, is "public art"?

Is it a "turd on a plaza", artist designed building parts, or an artwork that was concieved and built specifically for one location, and wont work anywhere else?

Is it a studio sculpture, bought from a gallery, and plopped down somewhere?
Or is it the result of a 5 year coordination with architects, engineers, landscape architects, and building users?

Is it paid for by a corporate titan, chosen because he likes it, or is it tax money spent by a 12 person committee obeying open meeting laws, ADA regulations, and trying not to offend anyone.

Of course, it could be any of those things, and the result can vary wildly.

I would tend to exclude from the category "public art" a work that an artist made in the studio, on his or her own, showed in a gallery, and then was purchased and plopped down in a public place. A Henry Moore or a David Smith could equally well be on Leonardo DiCaprio's new Penthouse patio, a private isle in Greece, or in front of an insurance company headquarters in midtown- and neither the sculptor, nor the sculpture, cares one whit.

On the other hand, pieces that are specifically made for a public location, often with a lot of wanted, or unwanted, input from public officials, architects, and building users, is gonna look a lot different.

Consider the restrictions placed on the artist during the process, and judge, to some degree anyway, the success or failure of the piece accordingly. Often times, the failure of public art results from an artist being placed in an impossible situation, with a huge weight of political baggage.

Me, I am not a big mural fan. But one of my favorite public artworks in Manhattan is James Garvey's piece in the 33rd street IRT station.
Elegant lines of giant round bronze snake down thru the space, wrapping around the old riveted columns. You can perch on them while waiting for a train. Or just admire the way they subvert the space with the least amount of material and effort.

Public art, like any other field of human endeavor, is about 95% crap. But there are a few bright sparks.
Vito Acconci, Buster Simpson, Janet Echleman, Linda Beaumont, Tom Otterness, and a bunch of other great artists have pulled off some wonderful public pieces.

11/16/2007 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

If I write what I think of Tom Otterness right now Ed will be even more mad at me.

11/16/2007 01:00:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

...high on my list of pet peeves is work that might look good from the penthouse office window of the CEO who approved it, but is impossible to see in whole from the ground.

This probably relates more to corporate art than public, but I've heard (not sure if it's true) that the architect who designed the main office building on the Disney lot in Burbank had some sort of dispute with the company. In retaliation he made it so that when it rains, one of the big Seven Dwarf sculptures on the roof would pee on (former CEO) Michael Eisner's window.

11/16/2007 01:17:00 PM  
Blogger the fourth samba said...

In my opinion the murals in Philadelphia don't truly possess the same enigmatic and engaging prowess that the Crown Fountain or the Cloud Gate have. They stand aloof and really don't bring people on an everyday basis to stop, sit and chat about the pieces or even enjoy themselves in it together. Perhaps it's because I live in Phila. but they can become akin to a Kate Moss billboard in Times Square. They do bring the community together in order to create the piece but it seems that the communal aspect of the murals happen behind the scene and don't really engage the community at large later. It could be seen as the replicas one sees in Florence out in the piazzas where people just pass them by. Don't get me wrong, some of them are quite nice but they don't hold the same constant engaging "public" power as the Millenium Park pieces in Chicago.

11/16/2007 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I've honestly seen very few pieces of art anywhere that bring people together the way you're describing. But then I've barely ever stirred from the New York City area, so that may be it. Certainly the Philadelphia murals don't have crowds standing around looking at them -- enjoying them is a purely solitary pursuit, usually from a moving vehicle. So you're right about that.

11/16/2007 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

David sez:
In retaliation he made it so that when it rains, one of the big Seven Dwarf sculptures on the roof would pee on (former CEO) Michael Eisner's window.

Not sure how one of these could be made to pee on anything, but I guess anything's possible.

11/16/2007 01:41:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

Chris, I don't think any of them had to open their flies. It supposedly just had to do with water flow. This is Hollywood - you can't be too literal about things here :)

11/16/2007 01:48:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Good public art functions as art (it promotes thought and discussion) without ignoring its (nonwhitecube) environment.

Public art becomes lame when it stops functioning on either axis. Bad public art can take the form of a lame, universally approvable design that thinks only about liability and does not promote any thought.

It can be didactic downtalking that acts like its audience is stupider than it actually is.

It can be highhanded Tilted Arc-style I-Know-Better-Than-You-What-Your-Plaza-Is bullshit.

It can be an honest mistake that could never be anticipated, like how stereotypical and racially loaded John Ahearn 's sculptures (now at Socrates) looked once they were in front of the South Bronx police precinct.

At Socrates, the sculptures that do really well understand that most people will interact with them by playing on them and with them. Because it's a *park*. They are robust, and built to withstand the elements and children. And park visitors immediately call BS on work that is too fragile, that depends too much on insider artworld stuff in order to be meaningful, or is otherwise not thinking about the park.

The problem with good public art is that it creates conflict. If everybody liked it, it wouldn't be provoking any thought or discussion!

This impulse to please everyone, which is not a mandate for good public art, is what kills it more than anything else IMO.

11/16/2007 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Never mind the flies. It's just there are no windows across from them to pee on! Unless we're talking about their urine puddling around their feet after it drips from their pants. Which is a bit of a stretch.

There were stories at my alma mater about Anna Hyatt Huntington's sculpture involving a large horse (The Torch Bearers) in the middle of the campus being made to urinate. They were almost certainly apocryphal. But what did really happen was every year the fraternities would paint the statue with fluorescent paint, the removal of which eventually began to damage the surface so badly the administration put a spotlight on it and began to guard it more carefully.

The important part here being that the horse has a huge wang suitable for urinating and a good distance for a stream, which the Dwarfs lack.

11/16/2007 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger hovie said...

Public art is, to my mind, a gift to the public and as such theirs to touch. If you don't want them touching it, place it in a private context.

Nicely said.

I lived in Philly for 7 years during the '90s. The three examples of public art that come most quickly to my mind are the famous Oldenberg clothespin that everyone saw in Trading Places, Indiana's Love sculpture in a concrete park across the street, and Noguchi's Ben Franklin / Lightning sculpture at the foot of the Ben Franklin bridge.

I used to work on the Jersey side at one point and I saw the "lightning" sculpture every day when I returned on my commute. In that sense the art didn't need to be touched to be enjoyed. The Oldenberg is similar. You enjoy it as you drive around the City Hall. For that matter Billy Penn at the top of City Hall is another great piece of public art that doesn't require touch to appreciate.

There are actually a number of works of art in Philly that are installed in public spaces and can be appreciated as landmarks that one might drive by, without interacting with them. Another example is an equestrian statue in front of the museum which is on top of a fountain. You don't interact with the statue as such, but you can play in the fountain.

Still, I do agree that if a work of art is in a human-oriented outdoor space, then yes, it should expect to be touched. In Houston there is a large Dubuffet that has come under scathing attack recently. It is being donated to the city by its owner and moved to a park just outside the downtown area, but people think it's no good if it can't be interacted with. (Plus a lot of people think it's ugly in the first place).

Another failure however might be Houston's MFA's outdoor sculpture garden, also designed by Noguchi, but in this case, really just an outdoor museum. It even has outdoor guards that tell you "don't touch."

On the other hand Ursula von Rydingsvard had a very sweet little story about a piece she made of interactive public art on Art 21. If you ignore all the other links in my message I'd urge you to click on this one and watch the brief video.

11/16/2007 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

The public piece I usually think of when I think of Philadelphia is Your Move by Daniel Martinez, Renee Petropoulis, Roger White. I'm not saying it's actually good or anything, but I do think of it.

That and the freakin' clothespin. Who doesn't think of the clothespin?

11/16/2007 02:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Eric said...

I would just like to add that it is a real shame that as a race (at least those people who have some input regarding civil planning) we haven't done a better job planning/constructing the environments we live in. Wouldn't it be nice if the category public art didin't have to exist, because everything, walkways, roadways, buildings, stores, apartments, parks, were so inspiring that we didn't feel the need to spruce up the mundane with aestheticized baubles or quirky architecture or landscaping?

11/16/2007 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Sounds great, there, Buckminster Fuller.

Humans are too practical a species to waste money on so much aesthetics. Much better to spend it on blowing each other up in ever more novel and efficient ways!

11/16/2007 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger the fourth samba said...

I like that thought also, Eric and I think partly that's why I think of Millenium park, it's titled as a park even and those that interact with it might not necessarily think of it as art but perhaps "the tower that people spit water on you", "the bean", "the steel snake", etc... In this context too it's interesting to think of Louis I. Kahn and his desire for Philadelphia back a few decades.

And speaking of murals, a few months back I read about São Paulo's incessant attempt to rid the city of all visual "pollution" (this included billboards, graffiti, signage...). Sorry if any of you have read this too. I'm from São Paulo and could never imagine that city without billboards and graffiti, nonetheless what stores and certain chains began doing was to paint their stores in bright colors so that people would be able to find their stores around town. Dolce & Gabana in lilac, City Bank in red, on and on. That idea seemed a lot more interesting and more engaging than Philly murals. It had a contradiction that the murals don't provide, meaning these stores were not trying to be an artistic statement they were simply attempting to be seen and as a collective they feel as if in unison they have become a piece of art together.

"The problem with good public art is that it creates conflict. If everybody liked it, it wouldn't be provoking any thought or discussion! "

Again I don't know if everybody enjoys Millenium Park for instance, but seemingly those that "frequent" it apparently enjoy it and thoughts and discussions rise from the common experiences. Perhaps there's conflict in the juxtaposition of skyscrapers and a big mercurylike bean sitting atop a field or semi nondescript edifices next to faces virtually spitting real fountains of water on people. But personally there are no conflictual frictions about the piece that seem to make it, the opposite actually seems to make the park powerful as public art.

11/16/2007 03:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Eric said...

I was actually reading "News From Nowhere, or, An Epoch of Rest: Being Some Chapters From a Utopian Romance." by William Morris recently so blame him for my pipe dreams not Fuller.

11/16/2007 03:34:00 PM  
Blogger Tree said...

I think public art is like music in a grocery store or an elevator, it's meant to not offend as many people as possible and therefore it's bland and boring. Every now and then I'm surprised but overall, I don't expect much from it.

11/16/2007 03:43:00 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

Tree kind of hit the nail on the head with most stuff. It seems like the very process that brings people together to agree to the work bleeds the energy out. Suprise is a big factor in great art- but most people are afraid of suprise.

11/16/2007 04:59:00 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

That's why I kind of have to love some street artists. The beauty of Swoon's work comes from that very sensitive sense of surprise- she knows that she is kind of violating your space but she's kind of there to give you a gift like a flower and that makes it great.

11/16/2007 05:06:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

Eric said...
does anyone here remember the “exhibition of 21 "installation artists" (or teams of artists) sponsored by the municipally run 42nd Street Development Project

If that was the one when Jenny Holtzer put her phrases on the marquees of the 42nd st theaters, many of which as I recall were recently closed XXX theaters,(ahh.. the old pre gentrified 42nd st.) It was great but the best thing I saw during that was a theater on I think it was 7th Ave. had put "Boo!" on it's marquee and me and my friend couldn't figure out if it was one of Jenny Holtzer's or just that theater's manager seeing what Jenny Holtzer was doing and didn't quite get it, and was either mocking it or just wanted to participate, but I thought it was great if the theater did it on its own, when I learned about Open Source Programing and Copy Left, I always thought of the "Boo!" marquee and thought that some sought of truly Open Source Art Project would be great. In a sense an open call more of a request or suggestion for people to do something along loose guidelines, similar to how people decorate their houses for Halloween of put up Christmas Lights, Burning Man comes close but being it is more a gathering gives it geographic limitations, though along the line of Open Source it doesn't surprise me how closely it merges technology and art, Open Source is a concept and ideal of the technorati.

Eric also said...
Who wouldn't love to have as many sculptures in the streets of NYC as they do in Italy?

I would venture to guess its one of those cases that there are probably more intentional public sculptures in NYC, I wouldn't put an argument to their quality compared with any Italian city, those cities were built when there wasn't as big a distinction between artist architect city planner etc etc, it was all art, and you would go off the figurative vs. non-figurative tangent.

As far as interactivity, you can't beat the Alice in Wonderland Sculpture in Central Park, there are always kids climbing all over it, tourist photographing it, I love where the bronze is shiny because it is polished by people touching it, and sealed by their body oil.

This reminds me of a piece of trivia pertaining to public sculpture, If you see a public sculpture of a general on a horse, usually as a memorial, if the horse has both front legs in the air, and the general has his sword raised, he died in combat, if the horse has one front leg raised, he died while commissioned, if all four legs are on the ground he died in retirement. I'm not sure if that would apply to paintings as well.

All time great interactive public sculpture Richard Serra's "Tilted Arc"

Artist makes Sculpture,
Public removes(destroys) it.

11/16/2007 05:11:00 PM  
Blogger the fourth samba said...

I agree with Tree as well as far as public art in most cities.

Once my wife and I went to eat at Amici Miei's in SoHo and I remember sitting down and being beautifully surprised at the fact that they were playing Digable Planets' "Reachin'..." in its entirety.

"The beauty of Swoon's work comes from that very sensitive sense of surprise..."

I always think of David Hammons in this aspect, especially dealing with conflict.

11/16/2007 05:36:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

Bad: art made by committee rather than by artists.

11/16/2007 08:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Eric said...

I don't remember the Holzer marquees but I do remember this installation done inside of one of those fluorescent orange porno booth places(.25). They had kept most of the actual interior intact (the booths, the main staircase, scattered signage, the change counter and machines) and at the top of the stairs there was the headless form of a female figure in a wedding gown. Obviously there was chicken wire beneath the gown. Her arms were reaching out (reminiscent of The Nike of Samothrace) and releasing pigeons which littered the floor of the place. The installation was lit by the same cold fluorescent lights a porno palace would normally be lit by with some dark colors added for drama. The combination of filth, decay, classic beauty, and the ice cold present was really eerie). I actually came to have an appreciation of conceptual art after seeing these installations on 42nd Street that I did not have before that.

11/16/2007 09:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

first time in millenium park right after it opened --we came over the rise and a community orchestra/chorus was doing an open rehearsal of carmina burana in the gehry bandshell. many tiny children were having a blast running around and through the spitting fountains. then a sudden thunderstorm broke and everyone who could crowded under that shiny bean and everyone was entranced, exclaiming, looking up at all our crazy distorted reflected faces. it was so cool!
in philadelphia, one of the most effective public artists is that guy isaiah who makes those mosaics over whole blocks with tons of mirror bits.
the delacorte theater in central park is wonderful public art. another thunderstorm came whe we were waiting to see "the seagull" a few years ago. it was a long storm but nobody wanted to give up their tickets to this fabulous production. everyone crowded under the awning and shared stuff out of their picnic baskets like champagne and chocolate cake! it was a ny moment! then we finally could go in. the clouds were blowing across the moon, the city skyline a backdrop, the air so fresh, the show so magical.

11/16/2007 11:28:00 PM  
Blogger Sunil said...

Tom Otterness is a good example of public art. Feel good, non- conceptual and just-right-tacky.

11/17/2007 03:05:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

The only good example set by Tom Otterness is how to convince people to buy your crap.

Oops, Ed's gonna be mad.

Joe G.: The "horse code" is a myth. Sorry.

11/17/2007 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Chris, two questions.

One: Did you not read or not comprehend when I explained that meaningful critiques are always welcome, and cheapshots are only verboten for those close to or involved with this forum, so the atmosphere remains reasonably civil?

Two: If you think it's gonna make me mad, why on earth do you write it anyway?

11/17/2007 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I did comprehend that cheap shots are allowed for people we don't know here. I think that's hypocritical, but I'm mostly okay with that, because I am myself an avowed hypocrite. Wait -- can I say that and be believed? What if I'm hypocritical about my hypocrisy?

My head hurts.

Anyway. I was poking at you while beating up on Tom Otterness -- two for one!

As for why I write it anyway, that's because I have a defective self-control mechanism. If I think it, I say it (or type it). The only thing I can say is I've said (and typed) much stupider, more dangerous, and ultimately more damaging (to myself and others) things than you've seen here.

11/17/2007 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I did comprehend that cheap shots are allowed for people we don't know here. I think that's hypocritical,

It's only hypocritical if I'm arguing that it's right. I'm not. It's the policy here for one reason and one reason only: to ensure the comment threads remain civil. I'm not saying it's fair. I'm saying it's the policy.

Anyway. I was poking at you while beating up on Tom Otterness -- two for one!


I've said (and typed) much stupider, more dangerous, and ultimately more damaging (to myself and others) things than you've seen here.

I think you're being a tad melodramatic. I cut my blogging teeth on Little Green Footballs. I insisted one punk on that site meet me at 5th and 42th or shut his freaking trap, so angry was I at the truly hateful things he wrote. Nothing that's ever been written her even comes close.

The policy is there to keep it that way. :-p

11/17/2007 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Tree's comment and those that agree with it are cynical. They do speak to the worst that public art has to offer, and may offer a window into the difficulty of public art. But they condemn public art almost out of hand--what's the value in that?

Good public art is a difficult but nowhere near impossible task. It is interesting and creative to embrace the problems and paradoxes of public art, and the rewards are real. Good public art creates a more engaged and curious citizenry. It creates debate and injects intellectual strengtheners like ambiguity and subjectivity into the public discourse. There is real political value in creating this kind of public discourse, even (especially) when the art is not specifically political!

To condemn public art is to admit art's powerlessness, its need to be protected by the white walls of a museum or gallery. How weak!

11/17/2007 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Oh, poop--I was overly bombastic. When I said, "how weak!" what I meant to say was something more along the lines of "that's a weak argument."

Which it is. But I didn't mean to assault anyone's character or anything.

11/17/2007 01:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Chris! You are not a bad person or a hypocrite. Don't say that. Actually, you are kind of tame judging by your posts.

Nobody reads Spanish here? You want bad, sick and mean? He is the headmaster of the Charlie Finch School of insults and abuse.

Read from the start:

Yes, a blog, by Artnet's Pedro Velez.

11/17/2007 03:44:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I am a bad person and a hypocrite, but you'll have to trust me on that. Ha! Another paradox! Kind of. On this blog and others I'm much nicer than I can be and have been.

And Ed, I'm not being melodramatic at all, but the writing I'm referring to wasn't on blogs but private e-mail. I won't go into it any further for reasons of propriety -- not my own (I don't have any), but others'.

Let's say I haven't killed anyone but the other nine Commandments are up for grabs.

11/17/2007 03:50:00 PM  
Blogger Tree said...

Sheesh. I wasn't condemning all public art, and certainly not out of hand. I simply stated that it's made to be inoffensive. So to state this:

"To condemn public art is to admit art's powerlessness, its need to be protected by the white walls of a museum or gallery. How weak!"

Is a bit...much. And takes some tortured extrapolations from my short statement to reach such a conclusion.

11/17/2007 08:28:00 PM  
Blogger Ries said...

Look, if you dont like Tom Otterness, thats fine. Taste is subjective.
But to claim that all public art is made to be inoffensive, just means you arent looking hard enough.

Certainly, there are censors involved in public art that dont exist in studio work.

A few artists, however, manage to create good stuff in spite of the obstacles, and the best of em are not even thinking of offensive/nonoffensive- its not even on their radar. If your entire reason for being is depicting gay sex between guys dressed as nazi's, well, then, no, public art is probably not the best venue for you- but your career can still prosper, and you can still create stunning work- me, I am as big a fan of Attilla Luckacs as I am of Tom Otterness...

Here are a couple of recent public art projects that I think are really great, where you forget whether you are offended or not, and just get into the work-

Linda Beaumont- Travelling Light- SeaTac airport-

Janet Echelman- She Changes- Porto, Portugal-

Vito Acconci- well, I really like his "Light Beams for the Sky" piece at the SF Airport, but I cant find a decent image online- but to think that Vito, of all people, worries about offending- its silly.

I could come up with lots more.
I think its not as emotionally satisfying, but a lot more accurate, to talk about actual public art pieces, as opposed to making sweeping statements that are not tied to real art on the ground.

11/18/2007 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Oh, you all haven't seen bad "art" until you've seen the just-under-life-size statue of the "Bewitched" chartacter in bronze. The cable network TV Land gave it as a blatant ad--er, gift--to the city of Salem, Mass. You know the witch history of Salem, so you can see why the TV company would offer it, but why the city would accept it is another issue.

Not Storm King. Art for the masses: Storm Drain.

Here's a link. I found it on Google; you'll need to scroll down the site a bit (you'll need to copy and paste the URL):,RNWE:2006-13,RNWE:en%26sa%3DN

(In the same sprit, this same TV company "gifted" the Port Authority with a statue of Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden, and Minneapolis with Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards.

I'm going to go throw up now.

11/18/2007 05:08:00 PM  
Blogger jazim said...

Most of the time the artist is resigned to giving up his/her vision in order to win the commission. And the commissioning party (wether it's a diverse group where too many people get control and input or an individual) has a complete lack of respect for the artist and feels they are as capable of making a piece of art as anyone else. Both ways produce tons of material more appropriate for hanging on the fridge than some interesting public space.

I'm guilty of self editing to win a commission now and again too.

The commissioning groups don't give the public enough credit I've found. They aren't afraid of a little controversy. It's fun. If you can explain yourself to them all is forgiven, unless of course, it's poorly made. The meeting place sculpture must have been enjoyable for the artist to produce but how quickly will that thing be dated?

11/18/2007 06:08:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Aw, come on, Joanne, I love the Ralph Kramden statue. It's awesome. It's not, you know, art or anything, but I love it anyway. There's something so innocent and happy about it standing as it does looking out over the heads of the pushers and cab drivers and other bus terminal types.

I also love the statue of Lou Costello in Paterson, New Jersey. Paterson's two favorites: Alexander Hamilton and Lou Costello. That sums up America right there.

Paterson is also home to the Great Falls, which are slightly less than half the height of Niagara. Still very impressive, though.

11/19/2007 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

I too love the Jackie Gleason as Ralf Kramden statue, although it does block pedestrian traffic, it always gives me a smile when I realize what it is, I am usually like all New Yorkers rushing from point A to point B and don't always notice it, although it is a little too calm and collected compared to how Jackie Gleason portrayed Ralf, and if an artist made it, it must be art right?

11/19/2007 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

By the rules of this blog, it's art if an artist says it's art; and they're an artist if they say they're an artist. Therefore, Ralph Kramden is art if and only if someone who calls themselves an artist calls it art.

11/19/2007 08:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For an intriguing and more personal view of modernism and its consequences, read John Haber's classic essay on modernism and its consequences

11/20/2007 01:13:00 PM  

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