Sculpture Controversy, Pt. 2

Last entry, the Chicago Art Blog revisited the unexpected controversy surrounding a most traditional public sculpture in Chicago.  Chicago Tribune pop culture critic Steve Johnson wrote a feature article on J. Seward Johnson's God Bless America, a sculpture that is, in his words, a "25-foot-tall knockoff of American Gothic," that is, the painting by Grant Wood in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

God Bless America.jpg

Hours later, Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight twittered: "Is J. Seward Johnson trying to be America's Worst Artist?" with an accompanying link to the Tribune article.

A few days later on October 2nd, the East Coast joined the West Coast in criticizing the Middle Coast.  Art Fag City blog author Paddy Johnson posted a response  to the Chicago Tribune article, somewhat unfairly titled "Bad Public Art Finds Audience in Chicago."  I say unfairly since bad public art, especially by J. Seward Johnson, exists many places, not only in Chicago. In it, Paddy Johnson dismantled the Tribune article, indicating the article's logical presupposition:

 "At the risk of stating the obvious, the American Gothic sculpture [i.e., God Bless America] isn't
any good, and being popular doesn't make it any better. Cigarettes and
candy are well liked too, it doesn't mean they're good for you."

Other counterpoints to the Tribune that Paddy Johnson made were:

"It brings art into [people's] daily lives. And so will a good public sculpture. This is not an argument for "God Bless America," but public sculpture in general.

I never drive by it when [sic] someone isn't taking a picture of it. People
take pictures of a lot of things -- Times Square's Naked Cowboy for
example -- that isn't evidence of its value, merely its spectacle."

Chicago was not silent on this slamming of the city's public art.  Richard Holland of art interview blog Bad at Sports (facetiously) defended the sculpture in the "Comments" section of Paddy Johnson's article saying: "I think it's great! We needed a monument to bad taste."

Alright, so that wasn't really a defense from Holland but that's ok because we don't really need a defense.  Paddy Johnson did all the hard work of responding directly to the Tribune article. No one in Chicago really needs to go out and defend the city's public sculpture program because this thing isn't even included in that.  Like the tourists flocking to it, it's temporary and will be leaving soon.

Bad public sculpture finds an audience in most cities, what's notable about the appearance of God Bless America in Chicago is that it seems to join a top-notch public sculpture program.  But it is not and this is one photo-op that will be leaving soon.


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  • This entry is on today's "hot on ChicagoNow;"

  • I think a more appropriate and original art piece would be: Mayor Daley at attention to "public opinion" with his pants draped over his ankles and the aldermanic council lined up behind him with their lips puckered.

  • What!?! This sculpture is leaving town?! And I didn't even get a photo of it! If you're ever REALLY out west, past even the Twin Cities into the Big Empty Fly Over Country, check out the public sculpture of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It all started in Sioux Falls with the life size replica of Michelangelo's David, located in the out of doors appropriately enough. At least in SIoux Falls you don't have to dodge hundreds of people taking photos in defiance of the security guards and the signs telling you NOT to take photos (as you do in Florence, Italy). You can enjoy David in relative peace and quiet thanks to the fine people of South Dakota.

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