Thursday, November 6, 2008

Public Art

We've had a couple of new installations go up around town this fall: some temporary bronze firefighters outside the Convention Center, some sculptural stars over the new sign at War Memorial stadium, and one new controversy. It would have been nice if it had been a full blown controversy, with fiery editorials and letters to editor pro and con and a bitter public debate. But no. Mostly people just groaned and then the administrative powers that be noncommittally hemmed and hawed and and the objectors nodded in a crestfallen way and that was it. What is sad is that the weakness of the whole watery little discussion. To summarize, we have a new federal courthouse downtown which came with its own brand new art installation out front. Objectors: we thought that was just left over building materials but you are telling us it is a permanent piece of art? Administrative defender: not everyone's idea of beauty in art is the same. Objectors: oh. And that was it. Clearly the objectors felt so off their turf that they didn't even try to argue it was bad art but simply that you couldn't tell it was art. Likewise the Administrative Defender didn't even try to explain or defend the installation but simply reminded everyone that their taste is no basis for absolute aesthetic judgments. So at no point was anyone talking about the the particular thing on the lawn but rather about generalities (shouldn't we be able to tell it's art vs. eh, it's subjective). This suggests that no one was comfortable even for a minute addressing the aesthetics of the thing itself. When it comes to talking about public art, the public is clearly at loose ends.

What is interesting about this too is that the objections were not moral. Just about the only time a public discussion of art seems to gather any steam is when a moral outrage is at issue. Then people feel like they have some ground to stand on, like they know their moral stuff well enough to call a spade a spade. But take away the moral angle and discussions of art with a general public descend to the anemic territory of generalities. Because people are prepared to be told (as they were here) that their aesthetic judgments are relative and incapable of interfering with whatever is before them and they are more than willing to believe it. So in a way maybe I'm lucky this little whisper of kerfuffle crossed the radar, because it just goes to show that people do have opinions even without the moral angle. It's just that 1. they aren't comfortable arguing aesthetics and 2. it is not important enough to take time to get comfortable.

Here is the offending art/fountain.

Someone commented it looked like the AC guys had left a stack of ducts on the site. To me it just looks like the sort of sleek anonymous pieces that hundreds of new governmental or corporate offices require every year, like impressionist washes in noon to three lunch spots. Still, it is poorly made, which ought to have counted for something. It is leaking, held together with metallic tinted silicone, and sprouting algae in the warm sun.


Aish said...

They remind me of the urinals at old Ray Winder Field. R. Mutt anyone?

Kimberly said...

Wouldn't you know, this is my view out the window everyday as I eat lunch, and I have never even noticed the fountain?

I did enjoy the chairs on Main Street - they were fun and different.

Laura said...

I know! You can barely even see it from the street. You pretty much have to pull up right in front of the building.

About Me

Little Rock, Arkansas
I work at a local museum, date a lovely boy, and with my free time procrastinate on things like blogs.