Remember the episode of Parks and Recreation in which Leslie Knope and crew enter a contest to design a mural for Pawnee City Hall? After all of the parks department’s submissions fail to excite anyone, they enlist their friend Mark to design something that’ll win. He draws an old man feeding pigeons on a park bench. Booooooring. How could that possibly win?
“It’s mass appeal. It’s like what motels put up, and it hangs there for years,” he answers. “In government, there’s always someone who opposes a stance. Us? Old man feeding pigeons? No stance.”
This is the defining principle of public art: If an artwork is going to be in public, out in the open, where everyone can see it, it can’t make anyone angry, whether that be corporate or government sponsors or the average passerby. Most public art is devoid of that which makes art interesting: controversy, excitement, any flavoring whatsoever. But some public artworks, especially here in Miami, still infuriate people through garishness, mediocrity, and beyond. They’re just big, ugly things that we have to stare at every day, offending us simply by existing.
How do we loathe these artistic travesties? Let us count the ways.
1. Flower Sculptures, Coral Gables. Residents of the Gables have a tendency to get angry easily, and at silly things. Their latest fit concerns a group of Alice Aycock sculptures installed at traffic circles around the city last year — and for once, they have a legitimate grievance. The city paid about $1 million for the giant, flower-shaped metal installations, which resemble something out of a Björk video at best and what one resident called “an alien invader” at worst. The pieces might work elsewhere, but in the Gables, renowned for its Mediterranean architecture and lush foliage, they disrupt the aesthetic. They stick out like weeds, and they ought to be plucked.
2. Romero Britto Sculptures, Throughout the City. Frankly, it’s hard to select a single one of these vibrant monstrosities as the worst because their ubiquity in South Florida makes them equally terrible. From an art-criticism perspective, Romero Britto works in a similar vein as Jean Dubuffet, making large-scale, colorful sculptures with a glossy, almost-plastic look to them. That’s where the similarities end, however. Britto takes Dubuffet’s abstract, art brut approach and dumbs it down, adding brighter colors, patchwork patterns, and figurative elements – smiling children, palm trees, butterflies. It’s vulgar and ugly, but most of all it’s boring, and that's the worst quality any artwork can have.
3. Florida's Soul, Aventura Mall. This mall is home to a few less-than-terrific sculptures, from the nonsensical Back of a Snowman (Snow? In Florida? Clearly they didn’t think this one through) to Louise Bourgeois’ Eye Benches (I prefer her giant, spider-shaped Maman). At least Donald Baechler’s Walking Figure is on-theme. But the worst of the bunch is Florida’s Soul, by the Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. The work is an adult human figure, made of random metal letters, sitting in a fetal position. If this is really a depiction of Florida’s soul, it’s neither accurate nor flattering.
4. Marlins Home-Run Sculpture, Marlins Park. The best news we’ve heard all week is that the new owners of the Miami Marlins, those darlings of South Florida sports, might get rid of this garish Red Grooms contraption, which comes to life every time the Fish hit a home run. To that, we at New Times say good riddance. Some, like SB Nation’s Grant Bisbee, have lamented the possibility, calling it a “classic piece of Americana” that will be “ancient and adored” years from now. Well, Grant, you don’t have to live with the thing. It’s ugly, kitschy crap, and we'll be glad to see it go.
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5. Gorillaz Mural, Wynwood. There are so many murals in Wynwood that even if you find one you hate, you can just look across the street and find five you like. But this one, tagged by artists Weerdo, Bluze, Muta Santiago, and Most Fresh on the prominent corner of NW 27th Street and NW Second Avenue in anticipation of the Gorillaz’ upcoming III Points set, is pretty hard to call “good.” Not only does it mangle the cartoon band’s appearance, but it also screws up one of the group's lyrics: It’s not “Don’t go chasing heaven,” guys! It’s “Don’t get lost in heaven”! That’s the title of the song! Come on!