This just in from Steven Kaplan.
I recently attended a press conference for Olafur Eliasson’s New York City Waterfalls, which will be realized from July through October 2008 in four East River locations, including the Brooklyn Bridge anchorage and Governors Island. Presented by the Public Art Fund, these monumental, 90 to 120-foot tall free-standing installations of cascading water will be Eliasson’s first major public project in the city, and promise to continue his alchemical reference to natural elements and his abiding interest in the environment as both raw material and metaphor. They will also coincide with exhibitions of his work at MoMA and PS 1.
It’s hard to imagine an artist “greener” than Eliasson. In several previous outdoor interventions, he even dyed a number of rivers that very color — to be sure, with a safe, non-toxic chemical. Still, constant reference to the Waterfalls being “carbon neutral”, even from Mayor Bloomberg, made it seem as if this was the major selling point, as important as the work itself. It led a number of us at Artworld Salon to consider the almost compulsory political correctness employed in the marketing of public art.
We are happy the project satisfies the demanding yardstick of public accountability: that it will neither harm the environment, place undue demands on the electrical grid during peak summer months, nor suck fish into its vents. All worthy aims. And not to be curmudgeons or ecological slobs, but if art first needs to satisfy all potential issues of public safety, acceptability and taste, what might eventually be left? A freeze-dried lump of innocuous, biodegradable tofu, available in white, black, brown, yellow and all the varying shades of polyglot New York?
When The Gates came to town, the city was quick to declare that it would cost the taxpayers nothing. Christo and Jean Claude planned to foot the bill entirely with sales of prints and drawings. Now we are assured of no carbon imprint, no ecological bill. Of course we do not advocate despoiling the environment. But at what point will the costs of art be acknowledged and embraced as an intrinsic part of its subtlety, its brinkmanship, its elemental mission to confront all of existence? Not just those aspects deemed politically orthodox or acceptable to the largest number of constituents.
In other words, will the marketing of public art always be the handmaiden of compromise? Any thoughts?