The Problems With Public Art: Does The Public Like
By Steven Goss
It's not easy pleasing everyone. Just ask anyone who has created a work
of public art. It doesn't take much to offend most people and when public
art is involved it takes even less. If the piece is conceptual, the blue-collar
aesthete will label it, "too abstract." If the piece is realistic the
art aficionado will label it, "too trite." If it has anything to do with
religion, politics or race then you can count on numerous groups being
offended. No subject is safe from retribution. Louis Slobodkin can testify
to that. In 1939 Slobodkin was commissioned to create a sculpture of Abraham
Lincoln for the World's Fair. The piece, Abe Lincoln, Rail Joiner,
was a 15-foot-tall steel and plaster representation of Lincoln as a young
boy clutching two fence rails. It seemed inoffensive enough, however,
on the fair's opening day Slobodkin was shocked to discover it had been
removed. When he asked for a reason, he was told the commissioner of the
fair, Edward J. Flynn, had it taken away and destroyed, "because in the
opinion of a lady with whom he was lunching it wasn't in good taste."
So if someone can find an Abraham Lincoln sculpture offensive enough to
demolish it, is there a subject with which no one will be upset? It seems
unlikely. Still ARTless took to the streets to ask the public for its
insight on the perfect public art piece.
AGE 56 RESIDES Staten Island
OCCUPATION Consumer Relations
DOES PUBLIC ART EVER OFFEND YOU? Not really. Once I was in Ontario
and I saw this statue of a penis, only it wasn't a penis. It was a statue
of John Macdonald but from a distance it looked like a penis. If it had
been a penis I would've probably been really upset.
WHAT WOULD BE THE LEAST OFFENSIVE SUBJECT FOR A PUBLIC WORK? Horses.
Unless you can see their penis then that's offensive. Why is it that when
they make a sculpture of a horse they make its penis too? You would think
they could make a horse sculpture and leave the penis out of it.
WHAT WOULD BE THE PERFECT PIECE OF PUBLIC ART? I guess it would
be a horse without the penis. Just once I would enjoy looking at a sculpture
of a horse and not have to see its penis.
AGE 23 RESIDES Brooklyn
DOES PUBLIC ART EVER OFFEND YOU? Sometimes. I loved the CowParade
series in the city this summer. But I was a little bothered by the cow
that had the afro and looked black. Not that I am black or anything, but
people should be more sensitive.
WHAT WOULD BE THE LEAST OFFENSIVE SUBJECT FOR A PUBLIC WORK? The
Touched by an Angel Cow was nice. I would think it would be hard
to mix an angel with a cow, but some how they did it.
WHAT WOULD BE THE PERFECT PIECE OF PUBLIC ART? I don't know. I
wish the cows were still up though. I think they would bring a little
bit a joy to our troubled city.
AGE 62 RESIDES Manhattan
DOES PUBLIC ART EVER OFFEND YOU? No. As a matter of fact I would
cover the city with gigantic steel slabs if they let me.
WHAT WOULD BE THE LEAST OFFENSIVE SUBJECT FOR A PUBLIC WORK? All
public art is offensive to the public. They don't want art that you have
to think about. They want rainbows and hot air balloons and unicorns and
crap like that. Maybe the least offensive piece would be a 20-foot-high
unicorn riding in a hot air balloon with a rainbow painted on it.
WHAT WOULD BE THE PERFECT PIECE OF PUBLIC ART? Who can say?
I do know that it isn't a 12-foot-high, 120-foot-long steel slab that
weighs 73 tons.