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September 07, 2006

Sound-Effects "Art"

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Public art comes in many forms, noises included.

You might have experienced one example if you've ever flown into Seattle's airport and were in either of terminals B or C. And you really would have noticed it if you had operated one of the water fountains.

When the water lever is pushed, besides the expected stream of water, out come loud gurgling noises ("glup, GLUMP, gurgle, GLUMP!!).

I find the experience so awful that I head for one of the other terminals to slake my thirst.

How do I know this is "art?" Because by each sound-effects equipped drinking fountain is a small plaque proclaiming the name of the "artist" (a guy named Jim Green).

These noisy fountains have been in place for years and it's hard to believe that no one has ever complained. Apparently the only thing complainers can be sure of is that their complaints carry next to no weight with public authorities.

...How many years did it take to remove the "wall" sculpture by the municipal office building near New York's City Hall?...

It'll probably be a long time before SeaTac airport is gurgle-free.



posted by Donald at September 7, 2006


Gosh, I find those life size statues of people sitting on park benches creepy---like real people were demonically turned to stone. I've never encountered drinking fountains with their own soundtrack. I'd think the fountain was broken.

Posted by: annette on September 7, 2006 11:46 AM

I'm a HUGE fan of sound art. I fondly remember the first time I heard something odd while walking over a subway grate in NYC that turned out to be a sound art piece by Max Neuhaus. I also find Serra's large scaled pieces like the removed City Hall wall compelling, especially the way when one walks next to them they seem to induce vertigo. My reaction to hyper real bronze bench sitters can also be described as finding them "creepy". They are also fairly boring and simplistic technical exercises with minimal amounts of artistic inspiration or creativity.

At the end of the day, when I encounter public art that doesn't appeal to me (which is more likely than the reverse) I don't consider complaining or asking for it to be removed. I presume that it DOES appeal to a different section of The Public. I do NOT think we'd be better off if all public art appealed to everyone, even if that were possible. I'm much happier finding some things I like and some I don't, but being exposed to a wider range of work than I otherwise might.

This posting seems to be another salvo in a regular 2 blowhards series that follows the syllogism: "I do not consider this to be art, therefore it should not be considered art."

Posted by: Chris White on September 7, 2006 3:21 PM

A simple and immediate solution might be to encourage our undocumented brothers to view it as a high-tech urinal.

Posted by: Reg C├Žsar on September 7, 2006 3:37 PM

Chris White: "This posting seems to be another salvo in a regular 2 blowhards series that follows the syllogism: 'I do not consider this to be art, therefore it should not be considered art.'"

You might consider re-reading the piece; I think you'll find this:

"Public art comes in many forms, noises included.

"You might have experienced one example if you've ever flown into Seattle's airport and were in either of terminals B or C."

(I understand how it might be difficult to find, since it's the first two sentences.) As I read this, Donald clearly considers this art, if only of the sort that he dislikes.

Let's compare this to someone else's quote:

"My reaction to hyper real bronze bench sitters can also be described as finding them "creepy". They are also fairly boring and simplistic technical exercises with minimal amounts of artistic inspiration or creativity."

That seems rather more like the sort of thing you are decrying, though it comes from a commenter. I wonder who that was again?

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on September 7, 2006 6:07 PM

It's about as 'artful' as those cute little sprinkler systems in the produce aisle that flash and make thunder noises.

Posted by: Eric on September 7, 2006 7:00 PM

I like those fountains, but I wouldn't call them art. They're just an amusing, friendly stunt.

Posted by: Ethan Herdrick on September 7, 2006 7:07 PM

Should there be no constraints on public art? After all, it is public. If it is strongly offensive to a significant proportion of those who are exposed to it in a public space -- should that be a legitimate basis for banning it from that space? Clearly there should be no constraint on producing art, any art, for the private market. But it seems to me that there should be some constraint on a work of art shown in a public space. I'm not only talking about the sexual factor. Let's take the case of the Andrew Serra sculpture. Not only was it disturbing to the sensibilities of many of the office workers who were confronted by it in the plaza in front of their office building. It also cut that plaza in half. It had to be detoured around to go to lunch to come back from lunch when leaving the building when returning to the building day after day after...
So. Was that reason enough for removing it? I think so. It's one thing to put down your own money to enter a museum for the grand privilege of having an artist crap on you. That's voluntary. It's another thing when just going about your daily business you're crapped on. That's when public art goes over the line.

Posted by: ricpic on September 7, 2006 9:15 PM

I think there is one side of the disagreement, besides likes/dislikes, that Chris White overlooks: it's called Public art for a reason. It's the Public who pays.
Donald, as a member of the paying public, has all the right in the world to be dissatisfied with the service/product provided, to object and even to demand his money back.

Posted by: Tat on September 7, 2006 10:16 PM

The best defense is a good offense.

A few years ago, the President of Caltech wanted to pay Serra $2M to put up one of his steel-wall "art" pieces on a beautiful lawn on the west side of the Caltech campus. What prevented it was that something like 90% of the student body howled, and it gradually became clear that the sculpture would be an uninsurable target for power drills, oxyacetylene torches, and sulfuric acid.

So Serra wasn't given $2M -- during a period that NIH's funding rate is in single-digits -- to crap on our campus, after all. But what saved the situation was preemptive protest by the ordinary students and postdocs who would actually be spending 60+ hours a week of their lives working on the campus, and who would actually have that ugliness in their faces for years. It would have been essentially impossible to get the faux-sculpture removed if people had only protested it when the money was already spent and the excrescence was already up (though it probably would have been slowly destroyed).

Posted by: Erich Schwarz on September 8, 2006 12:10 PM

Yeah, but you can't expect to target which things your tax dollars support, and which they don't, at least not on a specific level. A lump of tax money goes to public art, some of which you may enjoy, some of which you may not. I hate those creepy park bench sitting statues, but I do like some other public art I've come across. That's life.

When public art is actually inconveniencing people on a daily basis, like the Serra piece mentioned, I can see how people would call for its removal, particularly if it was meant to be semi-permanent. People can tolerate things like that if they know it will end on a certain date.

Posted by: the patriarch on September 8, 2006 12:48 PM

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