Thursday, February 16, 2012

Perplexing Public Art

Gary Hume's creations on a plaza in downtown Mountain View, California.

When I drive back and forth to Moffett Field through Mountain View, California, I've often slowed down in their downtown area to puzzle at the two sculptures above.

Mountain View is the home of Google, Sun Microsystems, and NASA Ames Research Center so it has a rich tax base on which to draw. The city government there has designated that one percent of any project in the city that costs more than a million dollars goes to public art.

If you were to say you were against public art, you might as well say you were against motherhood and apple pie. It means you are against art.  Right?

Actually, I'm not against public art.  I'm just against silly art.

Today, I finally got out of my car and went to get a closer look at these two ... I don't know, should I call them sculptures?  I think Rodin might be offended if I did, but fortunately (or unfortunately), he is no longer with us.

I looked at the plaque on the white one and noted that it is called "Back of a Snowman" by Gary Hume. I then went over to get a close up view of the green one, which has always reminded me of something that should be in the frozen food section of the grocery store.

That one is also called "Back of a Snowman" by Gary Hume. So they both are the same thing. Only one of them is green.

In an effort to better understand this, I did the Mountain View thing and Googled "Back of a Snowman" by Gary Hume, and discovered that there is another one of his snowmen (back of) in the Battery in New York.  Only it is much taller and apparently doesn't include an adjacent green one.  Fortunately for us, someone on the NYC Arts Council has explained its meaning to us:

"Standing ten feet tall on the Plaza, Back of a Snowman bridges the fall, winter and spring seasons, reminding us of how distant the natural environment can feel in an urban context.  Its blunt silhouette and unadorned surface set against the sleek Hotel and skyline contrast the serrated glamour of the City.  Back of a Snowman's bronze heft defies the ephemerality of its implied medium, subtly coupling the permanent and temporary.  The sculpture's dimpled white, enameled spheres convey an elegance reminiscent of modernist abstract sculpture as well as the humor and immediacy of Pop Art.  But without coal, carrots, or a top hat, Hume's sculpture is a blank canvas, whose brightly reflective surface ignites our imaginations and memories."

I still don't understand why Back of a Snowman only bridges the fall, winter and spring seasons and leaves out summer.  One of Life's Great Mysteries, I guess. But I was pleased when they explained the part about the missing coal, carrots, and top hat. 

Beauty and art will always be in the eye of the beholder. In this case I take my (top) hat off to Gary Hume. It says on the internet that he's "celebrated."  He may be. But I suspect he's also celebrating. And laughing all the way to the bank.

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linda said...

i remember downtown mountain view. there was a movie theater, bike shop, a denny's and a benny huana (spelling) type restaurant.

i guess it has grown over the years, eh?

Robin Chapman said...

Because of all the high tech companies in Mt. View the downtown has grown quite a bit. Also they've done the usual "urban planning" thing so they've cut down all the trees, added ugly traffic circles at intersections and installed that (generally awful) public art. I'm trying to keep the so-called planners from doing this to the downtown of Los Altos, but it is very hard to defeat mediocracy. It is like trying to hold an amoeba in your hands.

linda said...

good luck with that as it appears from your pictures and comments, the city fathers (or mothers) are hell bent on runing los altos!

Don Meuler said...

Portland's art is friendlier. I like the bronzes around downtown there.

Robin Chapman said...

I think Portland has a pretty downtown.