And oddly, picking out the worst feels a whole lot more difficult than picking out the best!
For one thing, the field is crowded. When you're doing a "best of" list, you're dealing with (sadly) only a handful of contenders, guaranteed. But when you're trying to decide what the worst is, you find yourself surveying a vast wasteland, especially when it comes to public art. True, a few well-known disasters (like the Irish Famine Memorial, at left), come immediately to mind;but then you find yourself thinking of another candidate, and another, and another . . .
For not only is there an enormous field of contenders for the prize in question, there are almost as many reasons why they're bad. Indeed, nothing shows up critical folly like pondering the dreck of the past - because it always passed through some committee's critical filter, and was often even on somebody's "best of" list at the time! (Not so long ago, it seems critics thought wind sculptures were a good idea, for instance.) So it's worth remembering that public art is so bad partly because art criticism has been so bad.
|Big, bright and empty: the celebrated Anish Kapoor succeeds in creating public art sans public content.|
I suppose it's worth pointing out that the only recent "public art" that has made a splash locally has been the graffiti of Shepard Fairey. I hate Fairey because his work is plagiarized from other (better) artists, and because its rock-your-world narcissism is essentially as sentimental as the Irish Famine Memorial. Indeed, Fairey's success only seems to underline the unspoken crisis in public art: some folks seem to feel the only "authentic" way for an artist to enter the public sphere is to attack it. Clearly that can't go on forever - and at any rate, Fairey merely replaces nostalgic kitsch with hip kitsch, or just gnostic dopiness; I mean seriously, what is Andre the Giant doing up on those Boston tenements? Fairey's just as stupid as that sadly inscrutable giant pear in Dorchester (below).
Philadelphia Mural Arts Program