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Artistic Honesty Test…

March 5, 2005

What does this look like to you?  More importantly, would you pay two hundred grand for it? Read on for a visual suggestion…

Suppose you’re walking down the sidewalk and you see the following object in your path.  You would say…

1) “I wish those dog owners would pick up after their mutts!”

2) [It is] “a rippling curve that seems to spew out of the earth and curl up like a wave. It suggests not only water, but also clouds and vegetation and human limbs.”

If you answered 2), then you are an art critic for the New York Times.  You understand that art need not represent any object or concept, or even meet with the approval of the people who pay for it.  You are above all that.

I admit I was being dishonest by Photoshopping the first image to appear to be laying on a sidewalk (and in black & white to remove color cues.)  When you look at the original context, the object is clearly a work of public art. 

Instead of a little turd on the sidewalk, it becomes a majestic, enormous green turd that towers over the sidewalk.  The actual thing was located at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA and was commissioned of sculptor William Tucker in 1987 for $200,000.

You can just imagine the scene when this 4-ton bronze gem was unveiled.  People see lots of different things in the sculpture, none of them complimentary.  A diseased liver, a diseased male organ, a pile of… well, you know…

Finally the Scripps institute paid $40,000 to have it moved out of sight.  The artist, showing astonishing contempt for the disapproving public, said

“the chasm of incomprehension between public art and its intended audience remains as wide as ever.”

“In these circumstances, there is a certain pressure on the sculptor to design socially useful work for public commission; failing that, if the artist insists on producing a functionless object or structure, there is the expectation that this intrusive presence be explained in terms of its meaning or symbolism…Over the years, I have developed the belief that the power of sculpture depends on its capacity to suggest many things, without literally embodying a single image.”

And then he added a bit of self-congratulation for his masterpiece:

“[Many readings of the piece] are possible, but they neither exhaust nor explain the sculpture’s energy.”

I have nothing against non-representational art but sometimes it seems like the artist is just dumping a big load of… well, you know… on the paying public.  Will our buildings always be afflicted by the sculpture of public contempt?  Isn’t a nice building a good enough statement by itself?  Aren’t landscaping and architecture themselves art forms?

Scripps very entertaining slide show about the piece

Story of the move to, uh, less-visible location

Hilarious review, “Art can be a moving experience”

Very good picture on Elsadesign.com

A humorous review of the entire facility on improbable.com

Time magazine called it Tucker’s masterpiece, and said, “It packs three layers of imagery into its mass without the slightest strain or theatricality.”

Sorry about that second picture.  I know it looks gross.  Both composite photo illustrations are based on an image from the Scripps site.  Also, many thanks to one of my wonderful co-workers for sending me the links – you really made my day!

Categories: Art, News
  1. March 6, 2005 at 21:15 | #1

    The second rendition is much more tasteful. I’m sure didn’t cost thousands!  I truly think the Scripps Institute should use it’s research talents to find a better deal on ‘art’!

  2. March 7, 2005 at 10:43 | #2

    To be honest, there’s not a whole heck of a lot of art (even in public pieces) that seems worth $200K. That said …

    “the chasm of incomprehension between public art and its intended audience remains as wide as ever”

    And, no doubt, the artist is certain that it’s the “intended audience”‘s fault (though one would think, in what is no doubt an ante-diluvian attitude, that if you *intend* some folks to be your audience, then the responsibility of bridging that chasm is *yours*).

  3. Angel
    March 27, 2007 at 14:51 | #3

    Sorry, but it looks like the Jolly Green Giant relieved himself on the lawn.

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