I posted my thoughts on the removal of sculptures back in September, as “Politics and Portrait Sculptures.” At around the same time Bill de Blasio formed the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers to consider the possible removal of some New York City sculptures. (An online survey is here.) Last week I posted G.A. Mudge’s testimony at the Commission’s hearing.
This week, I’ve asked Zenos Frudakis and Quent Cordair to comment on the removal of public sculptures. Standard disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect my own; nor do their appearance on this blog imply that they agree with all my opinions.
The Commission was slated to submit its recommendations to Mayor DeBlasio about three months after its formation – presumably some time in December 2017.
Reshaping History, by Zenos Frudakis
Zenos Frudakis is a figurative sculptor whose subjects include portraits of living and historical individuals and poetic/philosophical sculpture. His website is here.
Separation of Art and State, by Quent Cordair
What to do about public sculpture that some may find offensive or unacceptable?
In art as in religion, an individual’s values reflect his most deeply held personal ideas and convictions. Our response to art reflects what we each personally consider to be important, right, and good. Politically, in any matter concerning art, if we respect the freedom of the individual and the rights of all to think and believe as they will, we must observe a principled separation of art and state, for the same reasons we observe a separation of religion and state.
A work of art depicting an historical person honors something of essence about the person—his character, his ideology, his actions, his accomplishments. But the depiction may also remind others, according to their own judgment, by the standard of what is important to them personally, of what the person may have failed to do or his errors. One person’s hero may be another’s villain, and probably will be, as we’re reminded daily by contemporary political divisions and acrimonies. One person’s savior will be another’s devil. One’s saint will be another’s sinner.
When the power and resources of government are used to advance, support, or maintain any ideological system, value, or symbol – as most public monuments come to represent — the ideological freedom of its citizens is compromised, disrespected, and put at risk. The government’s only proper role in the arts – perhaps especially in the arts — is to protect each individual’s right to value and support what he sees fit to value and support, as long as his choice doesn’t infringe on another individual’s right to do the same.
The government should no more require an individual (via the taxes he pays) to fund the creation of a three-hundred-foot tall crucifix for the north end of Central Park than it should require him to pay for cleaning the graffiti off a six-foot bronze of L. Ron Hubbard on the south end. We have no right to make our neighbors pay for the maintenance of a sculpted tribute to George Washington, if for whatever reason they prefer not to, any more than we have the right to make them fund the creation of a sculpted tribute to Charles Manson, or Marilyn Manson, or Marilyn Monroe.
With the very limited exception of art integral to public buildings (if indeed art is at all necessary for such), all art – even publicly displayed art — should be privately commissioned, purchased, owned, and maintained.
Art that already exists on public property presents a particular challenge. The “public” has already paid for the artwork, or at least for the artwork’s care and maintenance, even if the commission of the work was privately funded and the work subsequently donated to the public. But if even one tax-paying resident detests the work or prefers, for whatever reason, not to have his tax dollars continue supporting its ongoing maintenance – then the government is obligated to respect the citizen’s judgment regarding the art, as surely as it must respect his preference to support this church but not that chapel, or this synagogue rather than that temple, or neither this mosque nor that cathedral.
Properly, in the government’s function of protecting individual rights, government should neither own nor maintain any art at all.
In remedy, any and all art presently under the government’s stewardship should be auctioned to the highest private or institutional bidder, with the new owner/s agreeing to remove it from public property and do with it as they will. Alternately, the artwork along with the plot of ground around the artwork can be privatized and auctioned, allowing the artwork to be maintained in situ should the new owners wish to do so. If the sight of the artwork continues to cause sufficient discomfort to some, the property around the plot, if also privatized, can be purchased by those who may wish to grow a fine hedge around that which they prefer not to see. As long as sufficient right of way is allowed to those who wish to continue enjoying the work, life can proceed peacefully for all concerned.
Government has no business being in the art business. When government is removed from commissioning, possessing and/or maintaining publicly displayed art, the present disagreements and battles largely cease to exist, becoming matters of private-property right — as they should be.
- My post ““Politics and Portrait Sculptures” is here.
- M.A. Mudge’s testimony to New York City’s Mayoral Commission is here.
- The report of the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers is available at www1.nyc.gov/assets/