Thursday, December 3, 2009

I hate public art.

At the southeastern corner of Central Park, there are two twenty-feet high welded metal constructions loop de looping over the sidewalk. One is painted pink and the other is striped with pastels. This aluminum mini-colossus is Franz West's The Ego and The Id.


"The Ego and the Id" is internationally acclaimed artist Franz West's newest and largest aluminum sculpture to date. Soaring 20 feet high, the piece consists of two similar but distinct, brightly colored, looping abstract forms, one bubble gum pink and the other alternating blocks of blue, green, orange, and yellow. Each of the forms curve up at the bottom creating stools that invite passersby to stop, take a seat, and directly engage with the artwork. The sculpture is only truly complete once the viewer interacts with the work. The Ego and the Id is consistent with the artist's overarching desire to produce sociable environments for viewing art using his signature combination of whimsy and monumentality."
We came upon it towards the end of a damp November afternoon. The seats that invited us to engage directly with the work were very wet and I had no desire to "truly complete" the sculpture.

Sorry Franz. I hate your public art.

This isn't true of all public art, and might not have been true for this particular piece, had the day not been quite so wet and gloomy. If children had been there, gazing up, climbing over the bottom-most whorls of The Ego and the Id, while puppies gamboled up alongside Ugg-booted Fifth Avenites. Maybe if I hadn't read the placard**. Maybe if it were named The Ketchup and the Mustard.

But probably not.

We are surrounded by public art, in plazas, in parks. Some sculptures are dreadfully on the nose, others are totally oblique and without any sense of purpose. What's worse, is that often times they are accompanied by some artist's statement.†

Public Art should do two things^:

1. Reflect or Challenge its surroundings.
2. Allow the Public to do whatever the hell it wants to with it. (Short of destruction)

Here are two examples of successful pieces of Public Art that, quite literally, fit the above criteria:

Cloud Gate, Anish Kapoor

I love the Bean. Rumor has it that Anish hates it when people call it the Bean...well, too bad, Anish! You should have shaped it like a cloud or a gate if you wanted us to think of it as either. At least we are not calling it The Kidney.

The Bean is a triumphant example of Public Art. It reflects AND Challenges its environment. Because of the curves, you will never see a pure reflection of the city, your friends, or yourself. Depending on where you stand, you can see a kaleidoscope of earth, sky, city and people.

And the Public gets out there and does whatever they want. Everyone has their own ideas about what to do around The Bean. Take a picture, run through the hump (or, sure, Gate...whatever, shut up.), lie down. Everyone wants to see themselves and see others.

No one is being told how to respond to the art...they are just doing it.

Second, The Daley Plaza Picasso (or The Chicago Picasso).

This one rises up like a monster out of the concrete. The color reflects that of Daley Center and kind of dares the city to approach it, with its double-irised eye and exposed ribcage. The raked base gives it a sense of motion.

It also provides a slide and place to sit, if anyone wants it. Passersby, can do what they please.

So why do I hate The Ego and the Id?

I hate it for one reason. It has seats.
"Each of the forms curve up at the bottom creating stools that invite passersby to stop, take a seat, and directly engage with the artwork."
They don't just curve up and create "stools", there is a literal seat on the foot of each of these things. And that's why I hate it.

A few years ago, my nephew R. received a tree-house play set. It had it all, a tiny shack for the castaways, leaves on the tree, little rope ladders. It looked like a blast. He played with it for all of ten minutes, I think. Part of the problem was that the toy told him what to do with it, as my sister said, the play set was "overly determined".

I recall the same thing happening with me, too. My mom purchased a My Little Pony Pretty Parlor for me and I played with it non-stop for one day...and never picked it up again. I was much more interested in making a leg brace for my crippled dollhouse girl.

This is a fine line for toy makers and artists alike. How much is evocative, and how much is too vague. In the instance of The Ego and the Id, we have a vague piece of artwork that gives you instructions on what to do with it...once that has been fulfilled, then what? After having completed the artists vision, what about mine? I feel hemmed in by the expectation that I should sit. Now I'm bored and aggravated.

My basic philosophy is that all art, at its root, entertainsº (not "diverts" or "distracts"...the definitions for these three words have been confused, and to the loss of artists and audiences alike.). The trouble with The Ego and the Id is that it LOOKS like it will be entertaining, with all the bigness and the bubblegum pink.

And I hate it. Because it lied.

** By the way, can we all declare a moratorium on the use of the following words when describing what art is supposed to do: Invite, Engage, Childlike Sense of Play. These words don't mean anything anymore. What if someone tried to evoke an "Adultlike Sense of Play" or a "Childlike Sense of Brutality." Then we're getting someplace.

†Artists should be prevented at every turn from talking about their work. They are artists, not PR Reps or Art Critics. Instead of an explanation of context or inspiration, we are often treated to a grant proposal or plea for the art's worth.

^I am excluding Monuments from category. All you guys on horses and giant people sitting and glowering, you are safe.

ºNo. It doesn't JUST entertain, for any of you art dogs straining at your muzzles. It then communicates and then educates. In that order. If we're lucky.

1 comment:

REED said...

Bahaha, what a brilliant post! Loved it.


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