Sunday, August 16, 2009

There was a surprise this morning on the local email list, "Anglobeersheba", a Yahoo Group, where the English speakers in the area have the chance to ask questions, offer advice, or -- as with today's tidbit -- express themselves on some issue of local interest.

This morning's post was titled: “Yeah! Mayor's removing ‘statues’”

The message read: "After sufficient public grievance, our mayor "Ruvik" has agreed to remove those veggie statues (and I hope the other flowers, chickens and other kiddie art around the city) so generously erected by previous mayor."

My immediate reaction was, "WHAT?"

The photo above is one of the examples of "kiddie art" to which the writer alludes. I don’t know about you, but I rather like it.

(The photos of local art I took from Etheleah Katzanells' way-beyond-excellent "My Beersheba" website, which you can find at Leah gets the photo credit, with my great thanks. Whether she agrees with my point of view is another matter – all I did was copy her excellent photos, because I couldn’t get free today to take pictures myself.)

Here's the backstory: Maybe about a year ago, these whimsical little pieces of street furniture began appearing all over Beersheba. There are all kinds of things -- animals, like the one above, plus birds and cute insects. There are lots of interesting fruit sculptures -- a bright red tomato, an apple. There are flowers, 60-ish flower-child sort of things. All of the artwork is perfectly harmless -- and many of them are quite good. Or so I thought.

At first, because the little statutes weren't appearing in my neighborhood, I wasn’t really aware of how many there were until someone else on Anglobeersheba sent me an email, suggesting that maybe a story about the artist, whoever it was, would be interesting. I agreed, and did a reconnaissance run for information – just enough to learn that the artists who created them were not local, but rather had won some kind of commission to produce the pieces for the city. I didn't think the story was worth traveling for the interviews, so I dropped the idea for a story.

But I still liked them – and more and more kept appearing.

Are they "kiddie art"? I’m sure kids enjoy them – but so do a lot of people. From reading the responses that followed on today's Anglobeersheba, I think a lot of other people liked them, too. We're not talking fine art here, no one is saying that. But this is street furniture. Something a little interesting to look at. A bit of color and flash in what can otherwise be a very monochrome landscape -- sand, sand and more sand. What's wrong with a little color?

The whole thing reminded me of the infamous "Indo Arch" that plagued Sacramento back in the 1970's. Any of you around there during those years won't ever forget the civil unrest over this piece of art. (Well, they CALLED it "art", anyway)

The "Indo Arch" was the creation of Gerald Walburg, and was installed in 1977 to mark the entrance to "Old Sacramento" from the newer part of the city. And boy, hell hath no fury like irate citizens when they don't like a piece of 'public art' -- especially one that they got suckered into paying for.

The local fury was unbelievable and lasted for months. People said it had "all the charm of a rusty paper clip" and castigated the city officials that decided to use taxpayer cash to pay for it.

The supporters -- the city's elite, as you might suspect -- denigrated anyone who spoke out against it by saying they were merely "cranky citizens", and slyly suggested that they needed some education in art appreciation. They barely refrained from using the word 'redneck', although they probably thought it.

Time passed, and calls to have the Arch removed and hauled away gradually died out. It's still there, still rusting -- the artist insisted it was supposed to rust. Now 30+ years later, it seems like it was hardly worth the effort to protest.

Controversy in "public art" is hardly new. When in 1981 an artist named Richard Serra produced something he called "Tilted Arc" for Federal Plaza in New York City, there was controversy. The sculpture was a raw wall of curved steel, 120 feet long and 12 feet high that managed to cut the space of the Federal Plaza directly in half. The problem for the poor unfortunates who worked in the surrounding buildings was that they had to walk around the darn thing, and hated it.

That was the point, Serra said. "The viewer becomes aware of himself and of his movement through the plaza. As he moves, the sculpture changes. Contraction and expansion of the sculpture result from the viewer's movement. Step by step the perception not only of the sculpture but of the entire environment changes."

Well, in that case, Serra lost, the public won. "Tilted Arc" was removed.

Another sculptor named Michael McGrath had the same problem with a piece he created for Burien, WA, near Seattle. Below is a rear view of what he called, "Nude Woman". There's no way I'm posting the frontal view.

So what do you think? Nude or crude? Or both?

The battle is still raging over this one -- at this writing, it's still on display, but for how long, no one knows.

Nor is the controversy limited to the US. Melbourne got a taste of "art" way back in 1980 when sculptor Ron Robertson-Swann created this angular assemblage of yellow-painted steel panels. People immediately dubbed it, "Yellow Peril", and the controversy raged. Finally, it came to be dotted with graffiti and was removed as an eyesore.

So what do you think about Beersheba's plain, simple little pieces of "kiddie art"? They aren't pornographic. They don't disrupt traffic, either pedestrian or vehicular. They don't look like rusty paper clips or buildings in need or renovation.

Why shouldn't our clever little statues stay?

I have no idea where the "sufficient public grievance" came from, that apparently swayed the new mayor. but I suggest we create some counter balance.

Let the statues stay. We've already paid for them -- what's wrong with leaving them there?

What do you think?


  1. The nude statue in Burien is just another rendition of Pygmalion and Galatea. No biggy.

  2. So you've seen it??? Including the front?

    Sorry -- you say "Pygmalion" and all I can think of is Julie Andrews and 'My Fair Lady" -

    -- And of course the upcoming LOGON production!

    Ain't no way any LOGON person is gonna appear like the bronze lady in Burien..

    Although, now that I think about it... Hey -- you never know. Those 'chorus girls' in that last production were, ah, something. Right here in River City...

  3. Fargo, ND, has a huge, freeform metal ox and a stairway of railroad ties among its public art pieces. Minneapolis has "Spoonbridge With Cherry," and Wayzata, MN, has a series of "Ralphs." Each of those pieces is whimsical and charming, just like Beersheva's interesting and colorful sculptures. It's OK for art to make us smile.