What is up with those ass-ugly sculptures at City Hall Park? Thanks to the Public Art Fund for bringing us yet another crummy show. Lightness of Being comes on the heels of their well-promoted but ill-received Ugo Rondinone show of figures made from boulders.
The exhibition title plays on Milan Kundera’s 1984 novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being by showing that even serious art can have a fun and flirty, playful side. Of course, if anyone involved in the exhibition had read Kundera’s book they would have chosen a different title; after all, no rephrasing can positively spin the book’s subject, which is about infidelity and civil unrest in 1960s Prague.
Daniel Buren, David Shrigley, and Olaf Breuning are the biggest names featured. I’ve never known Buren to be a particularly whimsical artist, and his “Suncatcher” sculpture lacks the critical bite of his iconic earlier work. The structure consists of a multi-colored oval glass canopy supported at a quirky angle above a platform, which resembles a work installed at Petzel Gallery earlier this year. Buren already made one of my all-time favorite institution critical artworks in 1973 when he strung a line of his classic striped canvases out the window of John Weber Gallery; in comparison, this stained glass platform might as well be titled “How the Mighty Have Fallen.” On the other end, Shrigley, an artist renowned for his droll insight on the art world and cheeky (disturbed?) illustrations, gives us a pair of forgettable life-sized steel flip flops that are so simple they come short of quirky. Meanwhile, Breuning gives us sad, strange marble figures called “The Humans.” Some are pierced by arrows, others look like the victims of a hapless chainsaw sculptor. All are frowning. Each is tacky. Not exactly a pick-me-up.
Other sculptures apply photoshop-style transformations of everyday objects. James Angus’ “John Deere Model D” and Alicja Kwade’s “Journey without Arrival (Raleigh)” offer little more than cheap transformative gestures. Both skew the form of a mechanical object—a tractor and a bike, respectively—but say very little in doing so. Given the theme of the show, we took home the following message: Warped perspectives of objects are fun!
Sarah Lucas’ oversized vegetable sculptures likewise reproduce recognizable objects with a simple transformation (here, scale), but since the raw concrete color evokes memorial and traditional public sculpture her works seem at least a bit more interesting to consider, especially since she’s giving us giant pickles. If Sarah Lucas took over the entire park with similar works, the Public Art Fund would have made a better and more cohesive show.
Lightness of Being is just strange collection of artists to throw together in a public park under the rubric of whimsey and fancy. In the end, we’re left with an ill-conceived sideshow of pastel banality. That’s no good, but sadly, what we’re coming to expect from the Public Art Fund.