As someone who pays maybe more attention than necessary to public art, I sometimes feel like I’m the dragon portrayed in the new sculpture outside the House of Louie in Chinatown, bound at the neck by a spiked collar and held upside-down over what appears to be a pile of cultural refuse.
As someone who pays maybe more attention than necessary to public art, I sometimes feel like I’m the dragon portrayed in the new sculpture outside the House of Louie in Chinatown, bound at the neck by a spiked collar and held upside-down over what appears to be a pile of cultural refuse. In what was supposed to be a sculpture appealing to the dwindling Asian population of the neighborhood, which has for the most part relocated to the 82nd Avenue area (a story for another time), the artist tried to incorporate elements of the culture.
The dragon, a common symbol of Chinese culture, is shown bound and held upside-down. This depiction of the dragon as being held prisoner has angered many business owners in the area. One of the pieces of sculpted trash beneath the dragon sculpture is an upside-down wok, which the owner of the House of Louie sees as a symbol for a restaurant going out of business.
One wonders why the businesses directly impacted by this piece of art, much less someone with the slightest idea of what symbolism would be appropriate to represent their culture, weren’t consulted?
In most cases of public art, the public opinion is simply not a part of the process.
As long as we’re discussing public works of art, perhaps someone can explain to me the appeal of the large dead stump held up by guide wires and metal casing that so deplorably adorns a certain building on Second Avenue and Morrison downtown. Was this supposed to symbolize man conquering the natural world, or is it like the dragon, just some random symbol of the area that was easy to shackle to the physical space?
Perhaps you’ve heard of the “1 percent for art” that is required of new developments in many American cities, including Portland. This essentially does exactly what it sounds like: 1 percent of a project’s cost must be used for art, in any way the developer sees fit. Unfortunately, many pieces appeal to only 1 percent of the people, and I’m usually in the other 99 percent. How many people feel that the “scrotum pole,” as the horrendous piece of movable aluminum across from Powell’s City of Books is affectionately called, is a good visual representation of our city? Of course, the public’s opinion does change with time, as was the case with the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but the two pieces are hardly in the same field.
Privately funded public art is a whole other category. We have the right to complain if we want, but it’s up to the private party to decide on what they want to show us.
If state or city taxes are supporting a public piece of art, which is a visual representation of the city we live in, the public should be invited to fully participate in the process.
Not everyone cares about what art is out there, and not everyone would even want to participate. So be it. But for those who do, the selection process needs to be much more accessible. That way, there’s a lower chance of a cultural faux pas occurring in the future.