Wednesday, July 22, 2009

DAMage Report - Public Art... It'll Grow on You

Public art is one of those sticky wickets that emphasizes the subjectiveness of art.
It is wonderfully cool in that it is art that is completely free and for the public. Usually public art is selected that is symbolic, iconic, makes a statement relevant to the city, or beautifies an area. No matter how gorgeous a piece of public art may be - you will have someone... or many someones that hate it with a burning passion. Art is one of those things that will never please all the people all the time.Granted, there is some ugly ass public art out there. And Denver, which has over 300 pieces of public art definitely has its fair share of eyebrow raising art. Although I suspect that some of it was intended as humorous. Come on, not ALL art takes itself seriously. The raygun and the gumby looking aliens in Denver have to be tongue in cheek, intended to bring a smile more than an introspective examination of "art."

One new piece of public art has been hitting the news over and over for the past several months as the controversy over this piece refuses to die down. The Blue Mustang, a 32-foot tall
fiberglass sculpture by New Mexico artist Luis Jiménez, is located at the Denver airport and definitely grabs the eye. Jiménez was known for sculptures that embodied Southwestern and Hispanic themes. "The Blue Mustang was proposed for the airport because of the role it played it symbolized the West and because horses were the original form of long-distant transport."

The sculpture is majestic and its placement carefully planned as it stands guard in front of one of the last remaining open spaces near Denver. “Mustang” has been criticized for
everything, from
its placement near the airport to its glowing red eyes and visible rib cage. The horse’s physical appearance stands to represent wild horses fending for themselves on the plains and the red eyes pay homage to Jimenez’s father who worked in a neon sign factory during the artist’s youth.

Unfortunately the artist was killed while working on this piece, his largest sculpture. Tie that tragedy with the glowing red eyes and the challenging stance and is was probably inevitable that it has been dubbed Satan's steed and Blucifer, among other things.
The outrage over this work of art is puzzling. The sculpture isn't ugly. It is stark, powerful and demands attention. And it does embody the fierce spirit of both the mustang and the old west.

I suspect that over time the citizens of Denver will grow comfortable with their Mustang, much like the citizens of Paris eventually embraced the Eiffel Tower, and Copenhaven their Little Mermaid. Okay - the latter maybe not so much considering they are shipping her off to Shanghai.

The question arises - what should the parameters be for public art? Are they strict enough or too loose? According to one article, 21st century artists are dummying up their public art in order to avoid controversy. Denver has a policy that no public art that has been accepted and displayed will be removed for at least five years to allow the public a chance to become acclimated to it. Controversy isn't a bad thing. It creates dialog, awakens the mind of the public, and creates an awareness of art in lives that are often focused solely on survival... and reality tv shows.
It seems to me that the boundaries to be placed around public art are fairly simple.
Able to be viewed by ALL the public without being demeaning or age inappropriate.


Paul said...

That mustang is amazingly beautiful, very powerful work. The amount of outrage surrounding any public art work is directly related to its size. Any work larger than six feet tall will attract controversy, regardless of its form or content, the bigger it is, the bigger the controversy.

Whitenoise said...

As a non-artist, I hate the arrogance behind some pieces- the premise that we, the great unwashed, are just too dumb to appreciate "fine" art. Examples of this would be Piss Christ or Voice of Fire- both con jobs IMO. Toronto's terminal 1 has some similar examples- awful, ugly stuff that cost way too much and says nothing to the man on the street.

BTW, that last photo of the elongated white people- Calgary has a park downtown with almost identical statues except they're all in some sort of black metal and there are many more. I think of it as the "alien park".

billy pilgrim said...

that stallion needs a rhinestone cowboy.