Monday, May 23, 2011

New York City Street Art – Kids’ Stuff or Serious Business?

I spent last weekend (May 13 – 15) visiting Manhattan, doing chores and  seeing people. I fully intended to go to the Metropolitan Museum to take in some interesting new exhibits, but I never got there.  But while running around Park, Madison and Fifth Avenues,  I got a major dose of art which was just sitting around on the street. 

All of it was delightful and  the people drawn out by the fine spring weather were enjoying it as much as I was.  But when I got home and looked it up, I learned that a lot of the whimsical street art on display is serious business to the artists and the galleries and would  cost a major fortune to buy. 

I have no desire to spend ten million dollars to acquire a 23-foot-tall, battered, stuffed teddy bear (plus desk lamp), but I’m happy to enjoy it on the street for free. This big bear looks soft but he’s made of bronze and weighs 20 tons. Christie’s auction house had to get six city permits and reinforce the courtyard of the Seagram Building in order to install him in place.

You are not allowed to touch the bear, but a pleasant young man was happy to explain that the person who created it is Swiss Artist Urs Fischer.  He has also carved nudes out of wax and put candles on their heads, so they would melt if you lit the candles.  This would be a major disappointment if you bought one of those nudes at Sotheby’s for $1 million.

The Teddy Bear work of art is called  “Untitled (Lamp/Bear)” and if the artist knows what it means, he’s not telling.  Christie’s went to all the trouble of installing it in front of the Seagram’s Building, because they hoped to sell it at auction on May 11 for ten million dollars.  To their disappointment, it only reached  $6.8 million (they did not disclose the name of the buyer) but that was a new record for the artist.  They’re leaving the bear in place until September, so you can still go see it for free.  (Just don’t try to touch it.)

 A few blocks away, on Madison and 51st,  in the courtyard of the  New York Palace,  I ran across this  colorful dog standing defiantly in his coat of many colors.  Visiting tourists were loving him and were sitting at the tables in the courtyard where you can order a specially created cocktail called “Hair of the Dog.”
There was no mystery about the artist or the name of this piece, because a plaque at the dog’s feet read:  “Doggy John XXL, Julien Marinetti, 2011.”  A fancy reception was held on May 10 to honor the French artist, who has made a lot of  “Doggy Johns.”  When asked at the opening party what his art means, he remained as vague as the creator of the teddy bear.

According to a social commentary site called “Panache Privée”, Marinetti replied to the guests at the opening who asked “Why a dog?”-- “It could be a dog, a duck, a skull – the shapes are experiments and a surface for my painting.” The writer for Panache Privée then opined,  “For the viewer, association to Marinettti’s painted expressions makes the Doggy Johns immediately intimate, they tease and what appears as a physical manifestation of our secret psyche is a springboard for universal connection.”

(Both quotes in the paragraph above are perfect examples of the kind of arty double-talk that makes me want to tear out my hair. It sounds profound but it means nothing and you encounter it everywhere.)

Thinking about Doggy John and the Teddy Bear reminded me of two other famous works of art that I have seen in Manhattan in past years—Jeff Koons’ “Balloon Dog” and “Puppy”, which was covered in flowers when I saw it  presiding over Rockefeller Center. (The one below is at Bilbao.)  All these contemporary works of art cost a gazillion dollars, they all evoke toys and pets from childhood, and they all are taken very seriously in the art world.  Are contemporary artists hung up on  their childhood?  Are they just promulgating a gigantic scam reminiscent of the “Emperor’s New Clothes?” Please discuss.

The good news about Doggy John is that you will be able to see him for free and order yourself a “Hair of the Dog” in the Palace courtyard until September.

 As I rambled around, I passed Rockefeller Center and stopped as I always do, to admire the amazing Art Deco statues and carvings that always fill me with joy.  Here is a young woman tourist who was getting up close and personal with the statue of Atlas holding the world on his shoulders.

 Here are the beautiful spring flowers in the heart of Rock Center .

Here is a fabulous relief over one of the doors. (In New York you must always look up—that’s where the good things are.)

 And here is a nice group of three women that I saw while looking up at an antique store’s facade—two women garden statues juxtaposed with a Lichtenstein (I think) woman in an ad for MOMA.

Speaking of Art Deco—here are some friezes just inside the Waldorf Astoria.  The same paintings were being featured in its windows, along with the information that the artist was Louis Rigal, so I went inside for a look. 

As I’ve said before—New York is a festival of art, even if you don’t go into the museums. You just have to remember to look up.

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