Archive for the ‘Judging Art’Category

What are we missing as we rush through life?

Gene Weingarten

Washington Post Columnist Gene Weingarten

My friend and colleague Caroline Ramersdorfer recently sent me this interesting description of a social experiment originally reported by the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Gene Weingarten. You can read his original story Pearls Before Breakfast in the online edition of the Washington Post.

In Washington , DC , at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes.  During that time, approximately 1,070 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.  After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing.  He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About 4 minutes later:
The violinist received his first dollar.  A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At 6 minutes:
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At 10 minutes:
A 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly.  The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time.  This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent - without exception - forced their children to move on quickly.

At 45 minutes:
The musician played continuously.  Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while.  About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace.  The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour:
He finished playing and silence took over.  No one noticed and no one applauded.  There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world.  He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.  Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

Joshua Bell in the Metro

Joshua Bell plays in the Metro

This is a true story.  Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C. Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities.

This experiment raised several questions:

  • In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?
  • If so, do we stop to appreciate it?
  • Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:
If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made……

how many other things are we missing as we rush through life?

Watch some of Joshua Bell’s Metro Performance


01 2011

Larry Rivers Sculpture and Building Codes for Public Art??

"Legs" by Larry Rivers in Sag Harbor NY

"Legs" by Larry Rivers in Sag Harbor NY

The Wall Street Journal just printed an interesting article by reporter Lucette Lagnado on a controversial Larry Rivers sculpture in Sag Harbor, recipe NY. The sculpture is of two nude legs, female, standing over 16 feet tall and is displayed outside of a private residence for the public to “enjoy”. It has become controversial for several reasons, but the biggest legal issue is whether it must subscribe to local “building” codes. The building codes in that upscale NY town state that structures above 16 feet tall must be permitted and approved by the historic and landmark committees. This work would not likely be approved. So must publicly displayed art subscribe to the building codes??

My view is that building codes per se are meant for habitable structures, like houses, stairways, electrical circuits, foundations, etc and are designed to protect the residents and the public from disasters like fires, earthquakes, storms and the like, as well as shoddy construction, so they require review by engineers for structural integrity.  Technically speaking, a sculpture does not fall into the habitable structure category. However, it is very common practice in the genre of art that is displayed in publicly accessible areas to require a structural review by a licensed and certified engineer, to ensure that there is no danger present to a public audience and passersby. So if this Rivers sculpture could fall apart due to weak welds in high winds for example and land on a pedestrian sidewalk, it would be wise to have it evaluated by a structural engineer and certified for its safety and integrity. This also serves to relieve the artist, and/or commissioning agent or owner, of liability should something devastating occur, assuming the work was built to designed engineering requirements.

Larry Rivers

Larry Rivers

Alternatively, a “sculpture code” or “public art code” could be adopted by a city that outlines the engineering process and requirements that may be unique to public artwork, but this has not occurred in many cities, if any, to my knowledge. Some arts commissions have adopted across the board structural review guidelines, but they are not code. This seems like a fair solution, since artwork is usually not “lived in” the way a building is inhabited and would demand different criteria for approval. But there may be some issues that will require flexibility on the part of the evaluating engineers, since art is always unique in form and structure, and not always an isolated object but sometimes could be interactive and environmental or even architectural in nature.  A thorny issue brought to light…..

You can see a video interview with Wall Street Journal reporter Lucette Lagnado.

Art, Craft, Design, and Decoration: My Definition

These definitions and meanings often overlap, troche and not everyone is going to agree with my definitions. But for the sake of understanding my show and blogs, thumb I’ll offer some interpretations.

“Craft” is the easiest one in my opinion. It means how well the artwork is made and it implies virtuosity with techniques and materials. Something that is “beautifully crafted” usually means that the craftsman has a true mastery over the materials and the processes to create a given object.  But craft does not always mean beautiful. Something could be well-crafted, but in a rugged, rough-hewn way, or something could be crafted in an intentionally “ugly” way. The level and type of craft needs to match the concept or idea of the artwork. Or a work could simply be about the craft in and of itself; these works are crafts and not art, in my definitional spectrum.

"Seattle Tulip by Tom Wesselman

"Seattle Tulip" by Tom Wesselman

“Decoration” is easy too. Decoration implies something that is simply meant to please the eye…something pretty or nice to look at. Something that might give some pzazz to an object, building, or place. Decoration does not provoke or stimulate intellectual thinking…it is merely visual eye candy.  Unfortunately some public art is really decoration. The giant tulip sculpture in front of a bank in downtown Seattle is an example of corporate decoration (a status symbol) in my opinion. Wallpaper is decoration.

Chrysler Building, NYC

Chrysler Building in NYC, photo by ahisgett

“Design” starts to get complicated. Design often refers to the building arts such as architecture, furniture, landscape, bridges, etc. Part of the meaning implies a functional or structural component, but it also includes aesthetics, or visual comprehensiveness (or audio, or motion, or ….). Good design implies that care has been exercised to consider and integrate all aspects of a project, and often involves creating a form to solve a functional purpose as well as creating a meaning and appreciation for the object or structure. So buildings, bridges, benches, bus stops, etc can be thoughtfully planned, innovative, and carry a concept. Some of my favorite examples of good design are the Chrysler Building in New York City, and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. I’m also a big fan of Calatrava bridges and Stickley furniture. And Porsches and Harleys.

Questions by Barbara Kruger

“Art” is the hardest of all to define. Suffice it to say that good art involves craft and design, plus it infuses the object or place with a thoughtful or provocative idea or concept. The idea could entail a human figure in a memorial context (one of the oldest and most prevalent forms of art…think of the Lincoln Monument in Washington DC, Lincoln seated in deep and troubled contemplation), or it could be an abstract idea created to capture an emotion or feeling (e.g.  Jackson Pollack paintings), or it could involve a socio-political idea where the artist is serving as a provocateur of morality

Barbar Kruger

or ethics or cultural constructs (such as Barbara Kruger’s gigantic billboards dealing with feminist issues). The spectrum of concepts is probably infinite. My own Fin Project : From Swords Into Plowshares deals with turning weapons and warships into Art, as another example.

The level of craft must be just right too, to match the concept…too “crafty” and it becomes about the technique more than the idea; not crafted enough and the concept is not portrayed effectively. The works, if in the public, must be structurally designed to withstand weather, traffic, earthquakes, and other interaction and abuse. One of my public art colleagues even had to design a cast bronze wall relief sculpture for a Boston subway station so that all the surfaces and planes drained downward….to prevent urine from the homeless transients in the subway station from collecting, creating a health hazard, and discoloring the patina! So the best public art is going to be well designed, well crafted and presents a rich and multi-layered concept.


11 2010