9. Public Sculpture

We visited a sculpture today in Chesterfield, Missouri.

It really doesn’t get much more generically suburban than Chesterfield.  Chesterfield is well manicured with several parks, many subdivisions and lots of shopping. It is not a particularly interesting or engaging place. It is a clean, affluent suburb and not much more. I was in Chesterfield today because I needed to renew my license at the DMV and take baby to her two-year old check-up: prosaic errands that further illustrate my point about Chesterfield. We had time to kill in between the two, thus the sculpture-visit. I’m not saying it is a bad place to live (for the record, we don’t live there), it just seems like an odd place to install this:

The Awakening by J. Seward Johnson

The Awakening by J. Seward Johnson

Here’s the thing: It is kind of ugly.

A, uh, beautiful knee

A, uh, beautiful knee

I don’t believe art must be pretty to be appreciated. But massive public sculptures? I think they should follow at least a few rules related to aesthetics. Perhaps avoid depictions of grimacing, screaming or crying? Consider that the people who work in the office complex just beyond the sculpture have to stare at this all day:

Help! I'm trapped in Chesterfield!

Help! I’m trapped in Chesterfield!

Exactly want you want to look at when you glance out the window of your cubical! Green grass, trees and a look of panic on a giant, naked man. No matter what the interpretation is, viewing the sculpture does not evoke beauty or joy, which may be more appropriate for public sculptures (especially in Chesterfield).

Raaaagghghhhhhh!

Raaaagghghhhhhh!

It actually reminds me of a zombie. I like zombies. One of our favorite movies is Sean of the Dead (hilarious zombie-movie, a must-see). The Walking Dead is a great zombie television series that we enjoy (despite the show’s complete lack of humor). Despite our affinity for the zombie genre, we will not be installing a zombie sculpture in our yard any time soon.

Though maybe just a hand would be nice.

Though maybe just a hand would be nice.

Some of Johnson’s (more well-known) figurative monumental structures are very clunky (see Unconditional Surrender and Forever Marilyn). Something seems to be lost in the sculptural translation of these iconic images. The moments they depict were fleeting. Thousands of pounds of motionless metal don’t exactly do them justice. The Awakening has more movement and interest than some of his other sculptures. But, I don’t think “clunky” is necessarily a bad quality in a sculpture.

Because I really like his tooth:

The Tooth, Seward Johnson

The Tooth, Seward Johnson

Photo Credit

When the Spy saw my pictures of The Awakening he said, “Wow, that’s really cool.” I tried to my best to get him to elaborate more specifically but all I got was, “I don’t know…It is cool looking. I like it.”

Claes Oldenburg created some of my favorite large-scale sculptures. And how much more perfectly suited to Chesterfield would this be:

Or this:

Or this:

But, I am just a big fan of Oldenburg/van Bruggen, which is really just a matter of taste and personal preference. I can appreciate a good dichotomy so here we have it: The Awakening and Chesterfield, a match made. And even though I alluded to Chesterfield being a sort of boring place, I guess the sculpture makes it less so.

Big toes!

Big toes!

Another angle

Another angle

Examining her own, much smaller, toes!

Examining her own, much smaller, toes!

Part of The Awakening with office parking garage background

Part of The Awakening with office parking garage background

IMG_2108 (433x500)

12 thoughts on “9. Public Sculpture

  1. Pingback: 98. Art and Absurdity | Spy Garden

  2. Pingback: 64. How to Sculpt | Spy Garden

    1. Spy Garden Post author

      Sure! Post away, just send a link back to Spy Garden if you would please! I just looked at this post and realized I never put in all the foot/toe pics, so I just added them! Enjoy!

      Reply
  3. wrygrass.com

    I visited “The Awakening” sculpture at the National Harbor just outside Washington, DC back in May. It is unusual and amazing at the same time. I agree with you that it evokes thoughts of zombies.

    Reply
  4. Sam

    LOVE THE AWAKENING!! It used to be in DC, at Hains Point, where my dad and I would stop to watch planes coming into National Airport. Recently I took my husband out there, and it was gone! I’m thinking we now need to take a trip to Chesterfield, OH!

    Reply
    1. Spy Garden Post author

      Well if you did visit the one here, you’d have it all to yourself! There was a NY Times article about the one in DC, I believe it is still in the area just moved to a different location (on the Potomac).

      Reply
  5. cathymcallister

    Oh my! That is really really creepy, but definitely interesting. We have some really terrible public art in my city. (It’s a bit of a local joke how bad most of it is.) I have actually been thinking for a long time about doing a blog post on interesting public art, and how it can engage children in community. Thanks for posting this….really a fascinating piece of art.

    Reply

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