Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Is That What You Call Art?

Business is blooming and booming at the Overland Park, KS Arboretum and Botanical Gardens this week but not for the reasons you might think.  This  public garden on the south side of Johnson County is a beautiful 300 acre oasis in the metro area of Kansas City. It also is the topic of conversation resulting from a skirmish over the appropriateness of a statue that has been placed there.

Recently, the Arboretum was gifted 11 life-sized sculptures gifted to the garden by Chinese sculptors.  The long term goal by the arboretum is to place these sculptures into a International  Sculpture Garden that will be built to expand the Arboretum.

Thought Number One 

Art takes nature as its model.    ...... Aristotle

the Arboretum is an educational, recreational and
 cultural resource for the Kansas City region.

Thought Number Two

“Art without emotion its like chocolate cake without sugar. It makes you gag.”
― Laurie Halse Anderson

Well, then one of the donated sculptures that was placed at the Arboretum must be truly "art" as it seems to be making some people gag and it is certainly stirring up a whole lot of emotion.  The up- side to this flap about the questionable art,  is the attendance at the arboretum is up.  No firm figures have been released but a spokesperson has said the gardens are far busier than normal.

The controversy over one of the gifted statues started May 9th when  a young mother, Joanne Hughs,  accompanied by her husband and two small children were walking on one of the parks nature  trails when they happened by a sculpture that Hughs felt was inappropriate for a public garden..  To be clear on this point, Mrs.  Hughes believes the sculpture needs to be relocated somewhere that is less visited by young families.  She feels the art is too mature for young children and sends a "wrong" message.  She feels   that a naked, dismembered body is taking pictures of itself, lends it inappropriate for small kids.  She found it a vulgar depiction of sexting.

Of course, the people that think Mrs. Hughs is being narrow minded, are quick to point out that the works of Rodin or Michelangelo were nude and there are numerous ancient works of antiquity that were as well.  Mrs. Hughs counters with "I have seen the statue of David in person.  It is beautiful. He is also not taking a picture of his penis. There is a difference there.  The message is different."

Sarah Van Landuyt, executive director of the Arts Council of Johnson County, said she thinks the arboretum sculpture is doing what art is supposed to do.  "The artwork is not meant to be pornographic. It is meant to spark this kind of conversation."

 Mrs. Hughs initially tried to discuss what she perceived as an inappropriate sculpture for a venue  that is open to the public with various city officials.  After getting no satisfaction from Overland Park's mayor, city manager, council members, nor any of the  arboretum officials, she has now started a campaign that includes an on-line petition.    At this point she has almost 3000 signatures from all over the United States.

The city and the arboretum have both made statements essentially stating that they do not consider the sculpture to be offensive, obscene and have no plans on relocating it.  There have been signs posted, however,  that say:

Some pieces included a display of the human body and parental guidance is encouraged.

The signs have not appeased Mrs. Hughs and she is now working with Kansas and Missouri chapters of the American Family Association, whose national organization is hoping to get enough signatures compel a Johnson County District Court to convene  grand jury impaneled to decide whether the arboretum can be indicted on obscenity charges.

The statue named appropriately enough "Accept or Reject" by
Yu Chang

So what are your thoughts?  Does Mrs. Hughs have valid points?  But does the County and City officials have the right to incorporate all types of art in the community?

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Thechubbychatterbox said...

I don't consider myself a prude but I do wonder about the appropriateness of the venue for this statue. It's surreal emphasis on sex and narcissism doesn't trouble me but I wouldn't want to explain this work to a child. There must be a better place to put this. As for Michelangelo, not everyone was pleased after he unveiled his David and placed it in front of the city hall in Florence.

Liggybee said...

I love those nature pictures from the Arboretum. They look so serene and the blooming flowers are just so beautiful! I love them.

Now as far as that statue is concerned...it's interesting, but not my kind of art. And as a parent, I really don't like the idea of it being out there either. I'd stop taking my kids there or not let my kids go there as long as that statue stays there. Nudity in art is one thing, but the way certain "features" are accentuated on that statue would be very difficult to talk to children about.

Rita McGregor said...

I'm not normally too prudish, either, but in a family situation I wouldn't want to be explaining this to young kids, either. It's not just the nudity--it's the concept of the sending nude pictures and the rest of it. I mean really. Can you see trying to explain to a five year old why people would even want to send pictures of their private parts on their phone to other people? Put it in a museum of someplace else. Not an arboretum. Unless they want to discourage families from coming there. Maybe they do, for all I know.

Cheryl P. said...

I don't consider you a prude either. I think there is a consensus that an arboretum isn't the ideal spot for this piece. One expects in a art museum that there will be some art that is "edgy" or provacative but not on a nature trail.

I didn't elaborate on my personal opinion as I was interested in hearing what others had to say but I will say the spokesperson for the county that appeared on the news came across as an aggrogant condescening jerk. While he made out Mrs. Hughs as being prudish, she came across as an articulate person/mother with legitimate concerns.

Cheryl P. said...

I agree with Mrs. Hughs that this isn't the ideal spot for this type of sculpture. The fact that the park is now putting signage up to steer people with children away indicates to me that they know that it is inappropriate. Seemingly they aren't prepared to admit that it doesn't belong there.

Cheryl P. said...

I think you hit the nail on the head. It's not just because it portrays a nude body but it also incorporates taking nude images of oneself. (which is becoming a huge problem with teens in our culture)

The other part that bothered me is the dismembered pieces of the body. What is that supposed to represent. I can see where small children migh be less concerned about her boobs showing that why her leg is cut off or she is decapitated. I found that to be a little creepy.

But you are right...if this was in a museum it might inspire conversation and interpretation.

Gene Pool Diva said...

My parents are great. They would have either directed our attention elsewhere or started a dialogue, but then Mom's an educator and once an educator, always an educator.

Cheryl P. said...

I think great parents would handle it well. Your mother being an educator is probably a pro at handling these types of situations.

All situations can be made into teachable moments. Ultimately, I think the county and city managers that were in charge of what art was used and where is was placed still have to bare some responsiblity for placing a provocative piece of sculpture on a nature trail used predominantly by young families.

If I were to take my 4 year old out to that park, I wouldn't take that trail. First because I am not his parent and they would have an opinion on how to handle it. Second because I think he is too young to conceptualize that type of art.

Totsymae said...

Interesting. Probably not the appropriate place for the sculpture for a family venue. Or perhaps, is this indicative of how we think of family now?

Cheryl P. said...

No, I think that it wasn't the best choice for placement but it sounds like it is there to stay. The city officials have made public statements how they don't feel it is at all offensive. (of course they are adults...well sort of)

I hope that isn't indicative of today's families...semi-naked, broken and on camera...now that you mention it, there are some families on reality TV that fit that description.

Wolfbernz said...

Hi Cheryl,

I'm not too keen on the statue either. I could just see it now, asking my boys why they were taking pictures of their private parts and texting them to people. I can see them saying " I saw it in the park, the statue was doing it and it was ok" I think the statue has a lot of 'splaining to do. I'm with the lady, get that out of the park.


PS: I think you should have done a poll on this one!

Trina said...

Wow. What a beautiful park!

I normally support art, but the placement of this one is all wrong. It belongs in a show in Los Angeles or New York, not in an arboretum where families go. It definitely makes a statement and it's not a good one.

Clicks for you!

oldereyes said...

Good post! My take is this: Small children won't know the statue is about sexting unless Mommy and Daddy tell them it is. They certainly won't see it as a "dismembered body." Once you accept that, it's no worse for small kids than any other nude. You can choose not to take your toddlers where there are nude statues but you shouldn't be able to have them removed. But Sarah Van Landuyt is disingenuous when she says "The artwork is not meant to be pornographic. It is meant to spark this kind of conversation" ... it sparks conversation because it is (mildly) pornographic. Personally, I think Mrs. Hughs is wrong when she says it is a "vulgar depiction of texting" ... to me the sculpture speaks to the dehumanizing nature of sexting, reducing us to mere body parts. How about using it as a vehicle to talk to your older kids about just that? I'd leave it where it is and not waste public money on court cases. Then again, my kids are grown and the damage I did wasn't showing them nude statues.


Cheryl P. said...

I'm not keen on it either and I probably will just choose to avoid it when I have the grandkids with me. I think "interpretive" art belongs in a more adult venue. I suspect that fighting city hall isn't going to work on this. I think the sculpture is there to stay.

Cheryl P. said...

It is a pretty setting. The 300 acres of park is surrounded by open land as well. Pretty rural area south of the metro.

I agree with you that a better fit for this would have been in a more urban area and in a more adult venue.

Cheryl P. said...

I don't know that really small kids like my g-boys understand the concept of sexting but kids are operating on a different level today. For Christmas we bought the 4 year old a digital camera A nice one that is made for the 5 and under crowd. He is quite a good photographer for a little guy and totally gets how to load pics to the computer. I don't think I would have trouble discussing the statue and using it for an educational moment.

But I don't feel that the venue was the best thought out destination for that particular piece of art. The audiance that the County Park system is trying to draw is upper middle class suburban families. Why is it even stepping into the art business, let alone art that is trying to illicit discussion and interpretation.

I totally agree with you though. This is another case of a waste of tax payers money. This thing now is going to be fueled by the American Family group out of Tupelo, MS that is going to fan the flames by trying to get an obscene judgement through the court system.

This is the type of thing that I am split on though. If it was me that found the piece offensive (and I wouldn't have...just would have found it not to my liking) I would just take a different trail. Not made a big deal out of it. But I have a certain admiration for people that speak up for what they percieve to be important. Mrs. Hughs is taking a lot of heat esp. in the media here portraying her as narrow minded with a hint of "not quite as smart as the city managers". She comes across as very articulate and informed. I just think this is going to turn into more than it needed to be.

Grandpa said...

Wow, quite a spark of controversy in the town....BUT I see a road trip in the near future....maybe not for the "art" but for the beautiful gardens and landscaping...the wife and I are hooked when it comes to landscaping and flowers....neat place....surprised I have not been there.....

Cheryl P. said...

I am sure that the next time you come into the KC area you can make a point to go out there. This time of year isn't as pretty as it would be in the Spring.

L.C. Griffith said...

To each his own. This particular piece inspired much thought. A think I really it. It's as though she's breaking apart into pixels and sending herself some place else. Our communication systems have replaced face to face conversations, love affairs happen in the air waves above us, a girl shares her beauty with her lover—real time— from one corner of the globe to the other...this photo says so much to me about who we are as a society today. Is it vulgar? Nah, just a bit edgy for some folks.

meleahrebeccah said...

I think the only thing wrong with that sculpture is that she's headless!

Cheryl P. said...

I agree that it is an interesting piece and illicits a lot of perspectives. I think Mrs. Hughs has a legitimate point that a public park isn't the best venue and a museum would have been a better fit. I don't find it obscene, I do think that it is questionable how the city and arboretum officials have handled this.

Cheryl P. said...

How funny are you? I was bothered by the broken legs.

Linda Medrano said...

Actually, I find the piece fascinating and representative of what all good art should do. It makes you think! I don't find it pornographic in the slightest, but it is edgy. I don't think kids are particularly that intellectually curious when they are young. Just ignoring it to small kids or saying something funny and then moving on would solve the problem. (It might be better in a museum, but I would stick it in my garden if I owned it. (But I'm pretty edgy myself!)

Cheryl P. said...

I didn't find it either obscene or pornographic. I am a bit conflicted as to "is this the right place for it?".
Now that I have cooled a bit...what really was pissing me off is the tone and tenure of the officials on the news and how they talked down to Mrs. Hughes. They kept inferring that she was a know-nothing hick and unable to appreciate art. I think she came across very articulate and had every right to voice her opinion. With that being said , I am pretty sure she is wasting her time and efforts. She needs just not go on that trail if she finds that particular statue offensive.