Should Philly Get to Vote on Its Public Art Installations?
I don’t have great taste in art. Or, maybe even worse, I don’t have any taste in art.
I have a couple of nice pieces courtesy of friends and family who haven’t yet realized their work is too good to give to me. But, left to my own devices, I gravitate toward the Basic Bitch Trifecta when decorating my walls: beaches, dogs and inspirational quotes. Part of me still misses my freshman dorm’s super-cheesy Audrey Hepburn print (another part of me misses it so bad that it’s in my Ikea shopping cart).
And so I’m never quite sure how to feel about some of Philly’s more abstract art. Is an oversized electrical plug art? Probably, considering it ended up in the Art Museum’s sculpture garden. How about a plastic, swirled dollop of paint? Perhaps. What if you dress up the dollop to look like the poo emoji? I’m going to go with definitely, but like I said, what do I know?
But while Philly has been fairly content to sit back and let the giant domino sculptures land where they may, New York is taking a stand. A new bill would allow neighborhoods to have some input in their public art after Long Island City was named the “lucky” recipient of a $515,000, eight-foot tall, hot-pink sculpture made of what appears to be Bubble Yum. According to artist Ohad Meromi, the reclining figure represents a “gesture of rest, of stopping, is some kind of revolt against speed.” According to residents, it looks like “Gumby’s grandmother” and “pink poop.”
I can’t help but wonder what would have made the cut if Philly had some similar measures in place.
Some of Philly’s best public art projects, of course, already benefit from the input of communities. The Mural Arts Program, for one, works with neighborhoods to create installations that feel organic and welcome. But what about the others?
Would the Clothespin still preside over 15th and Market if residents had chimed in? It’s admittedly difficult to imagine us sitting down at a table together and agreeing that Claes Oldenburg’s looming steel sculpture was an apt symbol of our city’s colonial heritage and future challenges. (At least that’s what some say it stands for. Visit Philadelphia skirts the issue and invites viewers to come up with their own interpretation for the admittedly strange landmark.)
Although it’s iconic at this point, I have a hard time believing we would have voted for anything as warm and fuzzy as the LOVE sculpture. Or as whimsical (some may say pointless) as the oversize game pieces in the Municipal Services Building Plaza. Not even the University of Pennsylvania — a corner of the city that’s fueled by a generous dose of delusion, that lives in fear of the day when the more liberal of arts are brought before a panel and asked, “What have you done for us lately?” — has quite come to terms with its infamous Dueling Tampons.
But maybe that’s OK. We didn’t vote on our broken buttons or our predatory kangaroos or our FrankenRizzo, but we eventually embraced them (and peed on them, and had sex under them).
I can respect Long Island City wanting a say in the aesthetic of their neighborhood. But at the end of the day, I think I prefer Philadelphia’s method of dealing with obtrusive public art: When life hands you a confusing pile of paint, make a poop joke out of it and move on.
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