Faust-ian question: Does public art have a shelf life?

August 10, 2011
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There’s already a healthy debate going on here about the decision to remove James Wille Faust’s “Chrysalis” from its prominent place at the Indianapolis International Airport this month in order to make room for a video display of digital art and advertising. So I won’t rehash that here.

Instead, I’d like to look at a perhaps bigger question: Does public art have a shelf life?

In the airport case, there was an understanding that the work would rotate (although Faust claims his understanding was that the piece would be on display far longer than three years). But when most pieces go public, there isn’t a stated removal date.

And so I ask: At some point, will it be okay for the statues around the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument to be replaced?

Twenty years from now, would it be okay for “Ann Dancing” be replaced by something more high-tech on Mass Ave?

And if the city of Carmel ever comes to its senses about public art, what should the process be for dismissing the embarrassing J. Seward Johnson Jr. sculptures?

Or, once a piece is declared public art, should it be in place forever?

Your thoughts?

  • Are you kidding?
    I LOVE those kitschy Carmel sculptures. I have some treasured photos of the cop fondling me, of me fondling the pervy-looking dad helping his kid learn to ride a bike, and of doing mean things to the geriatric bench-sitters. If those went away, I'd have no reason to get drunk in Carmel ever again.
    • Interesting question
      Isn't the "shelf life" question the same one that resulted in large swathes of historic buildings in Downtown being swept away as "old-fashioned" in the 1950s and 1960s, to our current dismay? And isn't that why we have historic preservation codes around now?

      Just because the taste of someone in power now doesn't match the taste of the city leaders who installed something twenty or thirty (or three) years ago doesn't mean that the art has lost meaning or validity in the eyes of the public.

      A better solution would be to ensure that an open and considered process is behind every work of public art, with public input and long-term thinking. And if an artwork in public is truly meant to be temporary, ensure that everyone (the public, the artist, and the commissioning group) has the same understanding, and communicate that understanding through the organization so that a management change does not do a 180 just to make its mark.

      If a time-duration commitment cannot be made that justifies the level of public expenditure, perhaps the entire project should be re-thought.
    • Inky!!
      Thank you for this.
    • absolutely
      I think certain art does have a shelf life. Take for instance the ugly, yellow twisty thing in the canal - or the Indy cars from a few years back. Art should evoke a feeling, a thought or a memory from the viewer - not just leave them scratching their head saying huh?

      The sculptures in Carmel clearly accomplish this as do the statues around the monument and the giant head on Mass Ave.

      Put differently, public art should only remain public art if can promote that community's identity to others that may not be familiar with it, affirm that identity with its citizens and effectively convey the identity of the community to all
    • The real question
      I think the real question should be, why is it being removed at this (early) time? My guess is that is is for commercial reasons, money and greed. That space is in an area where everyone going to baggage claim can view it. We are already seeing the start of a blitz of advertising. plans going into place in prep for the Super Bowl.
      (Hampton Inn and the mighty Budweiser) Is this another one? Does the IMA give a hoot concerning Indiana Artists in general. Nothing wrong with moving art around, but let's not put in the closet and sell the space to the highest commercial bidder.
    • What's wrong with permanent?
      If it was a rotating gallery, I'd say switching it is okay buit that piece at the airport is IT. Why fudge with something just to be fudging with it? Who in the heck made that stupid decision? Anywho, I thought exactly of monuments and statues and don't see any difference, here. Leave it and leave them, alone!
    • Baggage
      One of the best things about Willie Faust's sculpture -- besides its own inherent beauty -- is being able to tell out-of-town guests to look for the sculpture and then head to baggage claim. It is a landmark in the airport. One doesn't (generally) move landmarks and if one does, generally not for such crassly commercial reasons as a digital ad board. Who reads those ad boards anyway? It's more "noise" in an already distracting setting. How much better to come home to (or arrive as a guest) an airport that has Chrysalis prominently displayed -- this makes Indy a place to visit and live in.
    • who's in charge
      lets see president of airport authority board,was not aware the art was coming down, the mayor's office was not informed, so who controls this major Gateway to indianapolis,it seems one of those offices should be involved or do we leave it to a group of operators who could care less about indy, just trying to make a profit, with little concern about our community.
    • two sides
      This is a tough question with two sides at least to consider. Businesses do have to generate money. Artists do want to be paid for their work. Businesses are able to do that from the money they generate. As suggested, a business agreement should be in place between the artist and the business to understand the term of placement, if the term is extended, if the term is prematurely cut, etc. If that art is in a public space or right of way, then public input and processes should be involved as well.
    • I'm Disgusted
      I love that piece of art. It makes me happy every time I see it. We are already so overloaded with ads that many of us are completely oblivious to them, and saying that there will be artistic things added to the ad board doesn't make it better/right. If it's public art, shouldn't the public (who ultimately paid for it to begin with) have a say in whether it should come down or not? Or is this another example of when they want our money, they want to involve us, but when they want to do something sneaky and underhanded they don't want us to know about it thinking that we won't find out? Another example of arrogance and poor judgement in my view.
    • Art vs History
      Some art have a longer shelf life if they are connected to history. Statues of historic people and events will stay but abstract ones may go. The murals in court house and post offices are still around. I was happy that the mosaic of Lincoln was saved in the gov offices. Whould it have been gone if it did not have a history connection?
    • Let's compare public art
      Carmel may be an upscale community but goes to show money doesn't always buy good public art and more often than not, it doesn't. Really makes one appreciate a man like J. Irwin Miller wnen you visit Columbus and walk around the Henry Moore scilpture in front of the library. Which kid is likely to be more inspired or curious; the one in Carmel or the one in Columbus?

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