It glitters! It spins! It outrages!
Since it was hung under the Granville Bridge, Spinning Chandelier has appalled those who deem it an insult. Like Melody Ma:
How did such an insensitive piece of public art come into existence? Did no one at the city of Vancouver anticipate the outrage that would follow?
… It’s like letting the McDonald’s golden arches be the emblem of a city. …
One spinning chandelier to remind us of the inequality in the city is more than enough. It’s time to review the public art process before it produces another obscene structure …
Whether it’s puritans or progressives who are condemning an artwork as obscene, watch out. Mediocrity is waiting in the wings.
And we happen to have an ideal comparison with two works by one artist: Rodney Graham, who actually created the obscene Chandelier, chosen by the developer, and another piece you’ve probably never heard of, chosen by the kind of process that Ma favours:
It was a commission for the Olympic and Paralympic Public Art Program, and it is, if I may be harsh, one of the most mediocre works on one of the most opportune sites in the city: the entrance to Stanley Park.
The work takes its title from a series of photographs … which documented a series of ‘incorrectly’ assembled toy glider kits… And the park, of course, is a place where children and adults may very well play with glider.
It would at least be appropriate next to a children’s play space. So how about we do a switch: put Graham’s work near a playground and replace it with the statue of Lord Stanley, arms spread wide, welcoming “people of all colours, creeds and customs” at the entrance to the park.
Except, of course, this dead white male colonialist wouldn’t pass the trauma test. Nor does the Chandelier, according to Mitch Speed in another scathing indictment in MoMus:
… the sculpture’s material is not only its phony crystal, but also its urban setting, whose social traumas cannot be divorced from the work. Those traumas, having been inflicted by the exact interests that allow this piece to shine so brightly, are both the symptom and the target of this class war taunt.
Because of the danger of trauma, whether triggered by indigenous or class-war insult, the implication is that public art should be filtered through a committee that, as suggested my Ma, needs “to involve whole communities in the creation process.”
Hence no trauma. Nor even satire. Again, Mitch Speed: “It seems like a logical principle that satire can’t function if it structurally supports the power supposedly being satirized.”
Only that art that is deemed worthy. (You can guess who might be on the committee.)
Which is how we end up with “a balsa wood toy glider set; abstractly assembled as a modern sculpture” rather than, as Barrie Mowatt of the Vancouver Sculpture Biennale observed of the Chandelier: ” ‘spectacle’, an attention-getter and a good example of ‘place making’.”
Ma would argue, I presume, that such attention-getting art could emerge from her process: “Take a stroll around the seawall and you’ll see countless pieces of public art that have served as backdrops to weddings and photos of grinning tourists and locals.” But almost all were chosen for Mowatt’s Biennale, not the City, not through the public-art committee, not even by a developer, and only allowed because they are temporary. (At least until someone rich pays to make them permanent.)
If they had to meet the test of community review or the judgments of the righteous, many would not get mounted long enough to earn the scorn that, if they’re good enough, invariably follows.