Off-Ramp

Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Off-Ramp's Kevin Ferguson took on Public Art...

And not everyone agreed with me. Kevin Ferguson here. If you're subscribed to Off-Ramp's newsletter, you've already seen this rant of mine from last Friday:

Have you seen this thing above me? It's art. A rendering of public art, in Long Beach. A piece titled "Urban Lab: Chantilly Clad" that recently went up in a brand-new exhibition space in my beloved home town. I love art. I love artists like Francisco Goya, John Baldessari, Anne Walsh... But I don't love that thing above me. It took Long Beach and the artists two years to design the space, hopefully less time to design the art itself. Are those basketball hoops? Fishing nets? Macrame? I don't want to hurt the feelings of whoever designed this, but it looks silly. Like a lot of public art. Thankfully, it's temporary. I can't say the same for other memorable works like: "Dream of Simultaneous Connections" or "Mystic Tides". Silly.

I don't have anything against public art in theory, good public art exists, just hardly ever in Long Beach. And I can't figure out why. Does Long Beach produce bad artists? Probably not. Greenmeme, the artist collective behind "Urban Lab" are from Los Angeles, and the rest of their projects aren't bad at all. Does Long Beach not fund their artists well enough? This piece apparently ran a bill of $70,000, though I'm not sure whose money that was. Either way, it wasn't cheap. I don't want to be prescriptive in this. I don't know what would have been best for this space. But couldn't we have done better?

As Off-Ramp listner Lynne L wrote back, art is indeed subjective. And she, for one, likes Long Beach's brand of public art:

Kevin,

I looked at the Long Beach art project sites and found many of them appealing, something like 5 of 7.  That percentage is actually higher than the number of art works that move me in some way when I visit major museums, which regularly include art which I may find ugly, awkward or just boring, or which I simply don't understand yet.  Of course there are big, ugly, truly awful public art productions--naturally, the Triforium comes to mind. But I favor the impulse of humans and communities to make art, and to make our world more interesting visually.

Lynne

What do you think? I still stand by my opinion: it's hard (not impossible, just hard) to make good art when you have to draw up proposals and blueprints for review by city planners and other non-artists. But maybe, as Lynne said, art improves when it's more community minded.

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