Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Public Displays of Affectation

Here's a 180 degree sweep of my view just prior to the panel discussion on public art held in the Learning Lab at Dia:Beacon on Aug. 8.
Dan Weise of Open Space Beacon and Electric Windows, Cabot Parsons, Chair of the Beacon CityArts committee and Ty Marshal of Floor One and one of the organizers of this year's WOMS.
The lovely audience waiting for a stimulating talk.
From the fore to the back:  Steven Evans, assistant director of Dia Foundation at Beacon, Sara Pasti, director of the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art in New Paltz, NY,  and you can just see the arm of artist Garin Baker.
The panel talk was held in conjunction with the opening of Windows on Main St. in Beacon.  In preparing my thoughts on public art, I began thinking of the various examples of public art that I have seen and have had an impact on me.  The initial question posed to the panel was to relate an instance of significance in interacting with a work of public art. 
As I let others on the panel talk, I recalled an interaction with a wholly unofficial form of public art.  Around 2000 someone had nailed a series of loose informal paintings on cardboard to telephone poles along 13 Ave in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver.  There could have easily been over twenty five of these pieces on either side of the street stretching for at least 10 blocks like psychedelic incomprehensible garage sale signs.  My recollection was that these pieces must have stayed up for a couple of days, and I'm certain I had driven past them three or four times because I began to covet them.  I then set out to make two of my own cardboard paintings and I "traded" them for two of the works.  That work represented a moment of sharing and communication.  I think that moment and the subtleness with the work which it had presented itself in the environment has greatly influenced my approach to all of the projects I've organized.
Considerations of Public Art are different from the non "public" variety.   In general, it's saddled with many complex factors that pull on it in one way or another.  It's hard for any work to stand up to those pressures, and few examples do so strongly.  Of course the tyranny of the democracy of taste and personal affrontary are no more front and center (with the exception of healthcare reform) than the topic of public art.  I remember having a quick conversation with John Grant, the former public art administor in the  of the Mayor's office of Art and Culture about the caliber of Denver's public art.  I don't remember the nature of the exchange, but he left me with the appreciation that even bad public art can act as a physical record of a community's values and sensibilities ( in the case of Denver, those values tend to favor giant, infantalized representations, mostly of loveable animals.)  That notion has stuck with me, and I can appreciate even the public art I consider bad for that very reason (exceptions to this being the Borofsky piece which I still find loathesome and is a product of an illinformed and tasteless abuse perpetrated by the previous Mayor's wife, and  then, the wayward allocation of percent-for-art funds for what amounted to the creation of a sign for the Denver Pavilions shopping center.
Get that chair a horse!: Donald Lipski's Yearling in front of the Denver Central Library photo via bonjourpeewee's flickr page, and the largest chair in Bavaria.
As I'm typing this, I'm recalling another extended relationship I had with a sculpture near the South Platte River where it runs through Littleton, CO.  The work is metal; essentially an upright disc that rotates on a low pedestal or plate.  Each side of the disc sports a triangular "removal" that cuts into the form, without interrupting the circle's profile.  The sculpture is a dark bronze color with perhaps a slight hint of rust.  The two "removals" on the disc's flanks are enameled in yellow and green respectively.  I don't remember ever seeing the work rotate, but it was often in a new orientation each time I passed it on my bicycle commute.  I considered this sculpture to be a cold, generic piece of minimal plop art (I didn't articulate it in that way at the time, but that's the gist of my feelings)  However, one encounter with that work that changed my perception of it.  It was the kind of morning that had a dense layer of ground fog, with very low visibility, but it wasn't entirely dark and grey.  The sun was shining above the fog, so the effect was more of luminous atmosphere.  Coming upon the sculpture in these conditions transformed it into a conjunction of hulking shadow emerging from the nothing, pierced by an arrow of radiance in yellow. Shock and awe was the result.  The lingering effect of that sudden found form of respect is that even when criticizing a work negatively, I conciously leave the door open for the potential, slime though it may be, that a previously dormant power within a work may arise at some point under the right circumstances.  The treasure and the pleasure of public art is found in the multitude of inconsequential interactions generated by its presence within one's routine.  These instances shape the individual and in so doing, the artwork too.  In an essay in "Plop: Recent Projects of the Public Art Fund", 2004, Tom Eccles, former director of the PAF in NYC equates the work of public art to a piece in a private collection - not the prized gem that's showcased over the fireplace, but the piece that's hanging in the hallway, on the way to the bedroom, the piece with which one has a glancing recognition, but it's presence enters the consciousness subtley, shaping the tone of an experience.   
 here's a guided tour of Denver's Ugliest Public Art as determined by one individual.  One of the works on the list has sparked the most recent public art debate.  Luis Jimenez's Blue Mustang was an eternity in the making and it ended up dispatching its maykr into eternity.  I've flown in and out of Denver just once since the work has been installed.  I long thought the proposed piece was overwrought, underwhelming and downright chincy.  But in person, and at night with phantom eyes a-blazing, its an outrageous, creepy, hardcore sight.  It's raw, uncoothe and kitchy with a tough of Ug - exactly what the West can exemplify, proudly.  There are several facebook groups that laude the work, and one sizeable one that wants it gone.  I dig it.  And, if for no other reason, this work deserves a long life on its prairie perch because of its triumph over its over man, like the bull that bests the toreador.
Anyway, I don't know how informative our panel talk was, but I had a great time.  Unfortunately there ended up not being much time for exchange with the audience.
Dan Weise's panel discussion notes.

No comments: