Friday, September 7, 2012

The Perils of Public Art (by Committee)

This is "The Creature" sculpture on the lake near my aunt's Oregon home. Taxes on new construction in the area paid for this.

I've long had a concern about public art, chosen by committee and paid for with tax dollars. I have this concern not because I hate art, but because I love it. Art, however, is subjective. One's man's treasure is another man's trash.

Thus, I think it is especially difficult for people on political committees to select appropriate--not to mention really, really good--art for public display.

Another view of "The Creature."

One case in point is a sculpture I have seen this week on the lake near my aunt's home at the Oregon Coast. The sculpture, of a dragon, is a whimsical thing made of recycled materials. It is definitely charming, with a cartoon-like quality that has made it an instant attraction.

The attraction, however, has not been among art lovers. Installed August 4, 2012, it has been a magnet for children who, as children will, have climbed all over it . This would be okay if it were made of plastic or rubber or something like that and were a playground toy.

Instead, it is made of metal and has sharp places on it. Children climbing all over it have damaged both it and the children. Now it is surrounded by an orange warning fence. Not even a little bit artistic: this fence.


There is also a dispute about dollars here: the city having set aside five figures for the sculpture and the designers and installers reporting six figures in costs. 

What makes me sad about all this is the spectacular view from the hill on which this item of controversy rests. 

"I think that I shall never see/ A sculpture of recycled materials as lovely as a tree ..."

It sits on a lovely knoll overlooking a beautiful piece of land on a pristine lake in the gorgeous state of Oregon. This spot, of all places, needs no artificial adornment whatsoever.

An oak tree, or a redwood, or a pine would be nice in this spot. For wildlife to enjoy. For families to picnic under. For the community to decorate with lights during holidays. Simple. Sustainable. Practically cost-free. No plastic orange fence necessary.

I don't mean to single out this little city in Oregon. This is happening in my hometown, too. Modern, non-representational sculpture that would be suitable in a big city full of glass and steel skyscrapers is now adorning the public spaces of my little town and does not seem to suit our landscape, linked as it is by our history to California Indian villages, Spanish missions, and Mexican ranchos.

This is what happens, I believe, when the limited government our founders handed down to us, is fouled up by well-meaning folks who get a notion that they need to tax something that doesn't need taxing to build something that doesn't need building.

Art is tricky for heaven's sake! (Geez, hasn't anyone read about all the trouble Michaelangelo had with the Pope?)  It is well beyond the skill set of most of us--not to mention of political appointees. 

And as one city learned to its regret: it can cause a devil of a problem, if you don't watch out.

What can anyone say?

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