What Drives Public Art Controversies
Richard Gleaves, an artist and public art expert, wants to fill
in the middle of an often-polarizing discussion.
I wrote last week about the work of Nancy Rubins, a sculptor whose proposed boats-themed artwork was killed in a contentious debate more than a decade ago. I’ve been asking you: Do you wish San Diego would’ve installed her original piece on Harbor Drive in the late 1990s?
Reader Barb Graham agreed on our Facebook page with much of the public sentiment back then that the piece looked like a shipwreck and shouldn’t have been displayed.
Her work does not reflect the joys of the water, but rather a grim reminder of its destructive potential. As a boater, I don’t need those reminders. I am aware of them.
Bob Pincus, the Union-Tribune’s former art critic who’d effusively supported her proposed public work in the paper , said on Twitter that the work “would have been a step forward for public art in SD.”
The conversation about public art here often typifies the word polarizing: Some people who live in the community saw the artwork of boats bunched together as a literal representation of a horrifying accident. The arts community lauded Rubins’ playful approach and winced as San Diego demonstrated, in their opinion, weak-kneed provincialism and fired the artist.
This week I’ll be interviewing Richard Gleaves, an artist and public art connoisseur (he blogs about local public art for the U-T) about the need for filling the space between those two sides with some reason. He weighed in on another public art conversation we had last fall when the mayor first proposed cutting city spending on it, saying that the pieces help people feel more connected to the place where they live. “Rooted people are happier,” he said.
In the case of the Rubins piece, Gleaves said he thinks the public was right to oppose the work Rubins suggested in its particular location on Harbor Drive, and he disagrees with Pincus.
Here’s a bit from a note he sent me last week:
The whole longstanding controversy on public art has been driven by the conceptual chasm between a) arts insiders who icon-worship eminent artists and critics while lacking real understandings of how public art actually means, and b) knee-jerk responses by art outsiders who lack a vocabulary with which to convincingly express what they know in their hearts to be right (or wrong).
Gleaves will be talking about San Diego’s failed public art experiences in one of the San Diego Museum of Art’s summer salons next Thursday. I’ll be meeting up with him this week to interview him. What should I make sure to ask him about?
And if you haven’t told us what you think, make sure to head over to our Facebook page to leave your take on whether the region should’ve rallied behind Rubins’ Harbor Drive piece.
We did a TV segment last month about the museum’s summer series, which asks the question “What does a city need?” Here’s our clip, in case you missed it: