Vancouver Deputy Mayor Heather Deal has a number of portfolios – usually all the ways to make sure our City is becoming delightful – including Arts & Culture. She is passionate about the topic and a Councillor Liaison to the Arts & Culture Policy Council so I asked her to tell me more. She shared stories about her conversations with Vancouverites on public art.
Poodle (no official name) by Gisele Amantea got negative media when someone from the area complained that Main Street isn’t a poodle neighbourhood. Which is awesome because public art got people talking about the identity of their neighbourhood.
There were also complaints about cost and it not being a local artist (both based on inaccurate reporting).
(TP note: How many of our public art pieces have their own Twitter account? Follow @MainStPoodle)
When people complain to me about the poodle, I ask them what piece of public art they do like.
2. A-mazing Laughter
9/10 answer: A-mazing Laughter at English Bay – a Vancouver Biennale piece. So I ask them 3 questions about it:
Does it reflect the West End?
How much did cost?
Where is the artist from?
No one can answer that. Not one person to date.
(TP: I was able to answer all 3 – including who negotiated the counteroffer and donated it.)
3. The Third Piece
Then I ask for opinions about a third piece of public art. Very few can name one. Some come up with Myfanwy MacLeod’s The Birds in Olympic Village.
Some can name Giants by OSGEMEOS on Granville Island – another biennale piece from an international artist team.
4. I love it when people talk about our city.
Art is a great place to start that conversation. Learn about the hundreds of pieces of public art in Vancouver at the City’s website here.
5. Notice art.
Think about whether you like it or don’t. Look it up and learn about the artist and their inspiration.
Did you know that the poodle was made by an artist living in the region at the time and that it was inspired by the antique shops on Main Street? (TP: I had no idea.)
We also want to encourage people to think about what they like and want in public spaces such as art (murals, pieces, etc.) and what type of programmed space, festivals, and unprogrammed squares or plazas they’d like.
Ask yourself: Do you want to be entertained? Amused? Challenged?
Reminded of something in our history, negative or positive?
Awed? Do you want to be able to interact with it?
Does it compel you to take a selfie with it?
The poodle is in my neighbourhood, and a lot more than one person put their red “No!” dots on the poodle graphic as part of the panel display for the 3333 Main St development project that also funded the parkette at 18th. In fact, the poodle was plastered in red dots. The artist’s statement wasn’t memorable and didn’t exactly ground itself in Main Street mythology, history or culture either.
Art is very subjective, but it should speak to the viewer in an intelligent way. It has become a point of derision instead. The poodle was plopped into this predetermined location by the decision of one Parks Board manager who allowed public consultation only as an item to check off the list. so we were given to understand by a staff member at the open house. Pity.
Gisele Amantea properly did extensive research on foot and on bus all around Main Street for her second installation of public art in Vancouver, the Untitled (Poodle).
As the National Gallery of Canada magazine said, “…on Main Street, the figure of a poodle represents what Amantea sees as the general ambiance of the street, which is steeped in vernacular material culture. Main Street is the north-south thoroughfare that divides Vancouver into east and west.” Artists can tell us who we really are: “Amantea chose to represent a poodle—a post-Second World War icon of French sophistication, an icon of mass culture, and a popular breed of dog—because it crosses lines of gender, age, culture and economic status. Poodle parlours are everywhere. Collectibles and antiques shops on Main are filled with 1950s and ’60s memorabilia.”
“As Gisele says about her work, it is, ” inspired by the neighbourhood and the people who live there.”
It’s not clear whether the $100,000 expenditure that was partly paid for by the City of Vancouver and Translink affected the distress Translink/Mayors transit referendum but it couldn’t have helped much. Especially when mayor Gregor Robertson said, “Definitely not a fan of the Main St. poodle but public art is important and at times provocative!”.
Poodles may not be the most popular breed in Vancouver but they are in the top ten.
Main Street “crossed the lines of gender, age, culture and economic status” decades ago, and “collectibles and antique shops on Main” have been filled with a lot more than 1950s and 60s memorabilia probably before the artist was born. Our family has much experience with one of the older antique stores with Depression glass and other China.
Main Street is original, an authentic slice of the part of Vancouver that is still pretty much uncorporatized (unlike W 4th and Robson) and does not need a meaningless poodle on a pole to act as a mascot.
Contrarian that I am, I love the whimsical poodle on a stick, I smile every time I see it. I really dislike the laughing hyenas, which always strikes me as a cruel joke at somebody else’s expense. My favourite now is TransAm Totem, and I loved A Device for Driving Out Evil (now in Calgary, alas). Other Biennale pieces I loved included Nikki St Phalle’s madonnas, rabbits, etc. Highway 86 is a lost and lamented treasure (located roughly where the promised NEFC park is to go), but we got the Public Art program out of the failed effort to save it, thanks in no small part to Brian Newson.
I think my biggest problem with the poodle besides its lack of obvious grounding in the community is that it and the artist take themselves too seriously with the highly derivative and state-the-obvious rationale behind it. The last thing it is is whimsical.
I would sing the praises of true whimsy if, for example, a pair of red Mick Jagger lips and lolling tongue were elevated on a pole in place of the poodle, and the artist merely labelled it Satisfaction On Main, and didn’t try so hard to make up a rather pedantic pseudo-intellectual post-justification for an idea that probably originally sprang up nowhere near Main Street, or even Vancouver.
Better to have done some real research into the history of Westminster Avenue. The archives are full of images of streetcars and brick buildings and men in flat caps and women wearing bustles, which to me are valuable lost clues.
The references to milk bubbles in Dialog’s building and Hapa’s park design (which also includes a pergola made from “milkshake straws” are almost as bad as the poodle for shallow design and cheesy (pardon the pun) interpretations of the prior site use by Palm Dairies. The programming of the park doesn’t do the otherwise reputable firm much good either beyond the portfolio shot of individual components. The following actual use of the park (i.e. the real activity program) is severely constrained by a useless and high-maintenance mound of earth that occupies the centre of the site where a simple, shaded plaza should be. But such simple but practical ideas do not usually win awards.
Also, about those red dots – luckily some things get built sometimes without a lot of public support. For some strange reason people can get more enflamed about a piece of art rather than the (sometimes) much larger eyesore that funded it.
Your last four lines answer the question why the Poodle On A Stick fails. You can’t interract with it, its too high. In the summer when the trees leaf out you can barely see it, let alone take a picture with it. Having spent several years living near Main Street in my life, a poodle is the last thing that would come to mind thinking of the street.