Sunday, August 18th, 2019

Could be worse. It could be the all-seeing Eye of Sauron


Let’s set aside for the moment whether a county that is facing dire financial problems should be investing $700,000 in a public art project, using federal stimulus dollars for partial funding. (Mary Louise Schumacher points out in the article the proposed art projects would cost three times more than the controversial “Blue Shirt.”) Let’s also try to set aside whether the courthouse is the proper place to put a significant work of art of the kind being discussed.

Unfortunately we’re only given the single perspective shots offered in the newspaper, so it’s hard to judge the proposals.  But we’ll do our best.

At least none of the works proposed look like someone’s rush job to get some quick cash with leftover rocks from the artist’s last sculpture. Nor do they look like a completely misplaced eyesore that almost nobody has the courage to criticize.

The committee looks vindicated in their request to avoid “a figurative or literal depiction of justice.” I’ve seen something similar to Brower Hatcher’s proposal, and when I remember where I’ll probably hate that work of art, too.

I confess the tuning fork by Louise Bertelsen and Pho Po Shu Wang is growing on me. I just wonder if it’s the right work in the right space.  It’s the kind of work that will draw attention. For all of the inevitable jokes, I think this could be an amazing work of art, even a bargain. Putting it by the courthouse is probably doing it a disservice. 

I do wonder how long it will take people to complain about the sound causing some county employees to have health issues (no, I’m not joking).  As for the beam of light, somebody will probably complain about light pollution, too.

If Ryan Braun were to hit the tuning fork with his bat, would it break all the windows in the county courthouse? (I said the jokes were inevitable.)

Alice Aycock’s Wildflower would be a fine addition to the community. I like that it’s something different for her. Milwaukee shouldn’t get anyone’s leftovers. (Interesting coincidence: Aycock once did a tuning fork sculpture on a smaller scale.)

Cliff Garten’s proposal draws upon the classical architecture of the courthouse, unlike the other works, but it also seems to be the one work that allows people to walk through and around, actually inviting the public to see it from all sides.

If I have one disappointment it’s that the committee couldn’t find, and maybe didn’t search for, any local artists. I understand the desire for a nationally recognized work, but it would be nice to see local tax dollars go to encouraging local artists. If you’re going to spend the money, let’s encourage a young, local artist to think big.

If I had to wager on which one the committee would choose, and I could get my bookie to offer odds, I would probably say the Aycock is the front runner. I think it’ll be the least controversial and because of her connection to Dennis Oppenheim of the infamous “Blue Shirt.” It’ll be the committee’s way of saying, “See? Scott Walker’s gone and we can be enlightened again” as if the only problem with the “Blue Shirt” was the opposition of the former county executive. 

Maybe Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele can end the concerns about the cost of the project by opening up his wallet to pay for whatever the committee selects. After all, what’s the use of having a rich kid running the county if he’s not willing to contribute a little extra now and then, especially when his sole qualification for running for office was how much money he gives away?

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