Pretend Art Uglifies City

I suppose because Denver is a cow town, its residents must demonstrate to the world that they can compete with the best in erecting ugly, ridiculous mounds of crap and pretending that it’s art.

I learned about the latest blob from Vincent Carroll, one of the few true artists of the city, who describes John McEnroe’s National Velvet as “a towering stack of crimson intestines, or slippery sausages, or whatever they are, plopped on a pedestal near the pedestrian bridge at Interstate 25 and Platte Street.”

The cost to taxpayers? $53,000. Because, you know, it’s not as though Denver is in the midst of a bona fide budget emergency.

Jim on Light pointed me to Joel Warner’s list of more descriptive titles for the work: “Wet Salami,” “Penis Bags,” “Kidney beans,” “Tower of Power,” and the winner, “Saggy-Boob Electric Penis.”

Just great. Denver is now home to the Saggy-Boob Electric Penis. No cows here — just high culture.

Here’s yet another photo of it in case you just can’t get enough.

Thankfully, we have Denver’s Top Progressive Contemporary Art Gallery to let us know what we’re supposed to think of the new work:

Todays Rocky Mountain News continues the coverage with art critic Mary Chandler weighing in [on December 12]. Chandler is one of the more reasoned voices in the debate, having followed McEnroe’s public and gallery work for many years…

[N]ow the famous internet site [YouTube] adds a new piece to the collection called “Biggest Dick in Denver.” This of course would be relating to Plus Gallery’s infamous contemporary artist who apparently knows how to swing a racket but is most widely known for his cutting edge approach to contemporary art. “National Velvet” recently drew the wrath of a local right-wing radio station and the ire of select people in the community who neither understand or appreciate public art. A good citizen of the state has decided to post a reflection on the debate that is both entertaining and thought provoking on the subject, see for yourself…

He swings quite a racket, all right.

I love the gallery’s progressive attitude: if you disagree with the gallery, you’re just stupid, and no explanation is either possible or necessary.

We’ll start with the YouTube video. The point of the video is that people can’t figure out what the piece is, so they suggest it looks like all sorts of things, while a couple of silly radio talk show hosts insisted it is a collection of penises, which supposedly says more about the radio hosts than it does about the work.

Well, it is a stretch to insist it looks like penises. The fact is that it doesn’t look like anything, which is why people see similarities with various other things. But the fact that some red blob looks vaguely like a pile of kidney beans or various other things to different observers doesn’t demonstrate that the blob is provocative art. It may be provocative, but so what? One can find things equally provocative-looking in any dumpster for free. What it is not is art.

I also love the gallery’s self-serving conflation of “public art” with tax-funded art. Obviously the two are not the same thing at all. If some group had purchased the Ugly Red Blob with its own money and erected it outside on the group’s own property, it still would have been “public art” (or at least a public display), it just wouldn’t have been purchased through inherently unjust wealth transfers. The rest of us would have remained free to condemn the work esthetically, but we would have been bound to recognize the rights of its owners to purchase and display it.

Now for Chandler’s article, which reminds us that the pending demise of the Rocky is not in every respect a disaster. Chandler’s basic theme is that, if you reject the Blob, you’re hysterical and “allergic to free-range culture.” An argument like that needs no reply.

The one useful thing that Chandler contributes is a note connecting the piece to Denver’s Percent for Art program. According to one document I looked up, “The program directs 1% of the money used for capital improvement projects on land owned by the City & County of Denver to be applied to works of public art. Each project engages a volunteer selection panel that includes local community members, facility representatives, and arts experts.”

While I’m at it, I might as well indicate some of Denver’s other ugly art and artistic pretensions. Actually, The Poorest Tourist does a pretty good job of it. I had in mind particularly the piece that Tourist dubs “A Side of Fries,” though his other selections are also pretty damned ugly (though most do at least fall within the category of art). Here’s a much better — uh, much more vivid — picture of the ugly blue demon horse out at the airport.

No catalog of ugly Denver art is complete without special mention of Daniel Libeskind’s House of Horrors art museum. Some require the use of nausea medication in the building to keep from vomiting. It looks as though it were once a proper building, but a giant Samurai warrior chopped it into pieces with his giant sword, letting the pieces fall where they may. The joke is that the building is at least protected from terrorist attacks — because it already looks like it’s been hit.

But remember that there is beauty in the world. After all of the above I need a good long break with Art Renewal.