Monday, December 30, 2013

Socrates Sculpture Park Update: It's 'Controversial'

This is from my first blog post about the Park on October 26, 2013, "Who Knew All This Was in Queens?"

Socrates Sculpture Park is a few blocks from the Noguchi Museum in Queens, and a fun counterpoint to the Museum's quiet meditative ambiance.  The day we were there the park was crowded with neighborhood kids in costumes for a halloween event.  Dogs were in costumes too, and a farmer's market was happening on top of it all. It was a neighborhood happening. The exhibit was EAF 13:  Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition.

The work above is by Thordis Adalsteinsdottir, and is called Bear Eats Man.

Their Mission Statement:

"Socrates Sculpture Park is the only site in the New York Metropolitan area specifically dedicated to providing artists with opportunities to create and exhibit large-scale sculpture and multi-media installations in a unique outdoor environment that encourages strong interaction between artists, artworks and the public...

Today it is an internationally renowned outdoor museum and artist residency program that also serves as a vital New York City park offering a wide variety of free public services."


 And now Take Two:

They somehow found my photograph, through the wonders of the internet no doubt!  The child in my photo, and the others around were so unconcerned...

NYC Sculpture Park Places Fence Around ‘Controversial’ Artwork

Thordis Adalsteinsdottir's "Bear Eats Man" (2013) before the fence was constructed around it (photo by Susan Richards, via

Thordis Adalsteinsdottir’s “Bear Eats Man” (2013) before the fence was constructed around
it  (photo by Susan Richards, via

A work on view in Socrates Sculpture Park’s Emerging Artist Fellowship exhibition has been surrounded by a tall wood fence after some Queens residents complained that it was lewd and inappropriate, the New York Times reports.
The piece, titled “Bear Eats Man,” was made by Icelandic-born, New York–based artist Thordis Adalsteinsdottir. In a rough-hewn, folky style, it depicts a bear approaching a naked man from behind and getting ready to take a bite out of his shoulder. But, as the Daily News (ever so subtly) pointed out in an article that ran the day after the show opened, the man also has an erection:
“The figures are meant as a commentary on the adversarial, and at times violent, confrontation between ‘man’ and ‘nature,’ said John Hatfield, executive director of the Socrates Sculpture Park. “This male nude is not intended to be sexually provocative.”
Oh, but it is! It is!
That article also quoted Rob MacKay, director of the Queens Tourism Council, as calling the sculpture “in poor taste.”
Two and a half months later, a blogger who goes by the name George the Atheist, and whom the Times calls “well-read,” wrote an “open letter to the New York City Parks Commissioner Veronica White.” Its message was clear from the title: “Bestiality Sanctioned at Queens Park.” George the Atheist wrote:
Dear Ms White:  I recently discovered this work of “art” at the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City.  Please see photos below.  I was curious as to how the Parks Department of which you are the Commissioner ever approved of the emplacement of such an item?   I am certain many citizens would find and have found in it moral offense in its visual obscenity.  Do you?
Surely you are aware that this so-called “sculpture” is situated on parkland that is tax-payer supported?  Was there ever a public hearing held on the appropriateness of this so-called “sculpture”?
George goes on to call Adalsteinsdottir an “artist” — in quotes — and even has a bit of wordplay fun, calling her artist statement “cock and bull” and “blowsy” copy. He ends by claiming that the sculpture “borders on child abuse.”
According to the Queens Chronicle, the parks department responded to George, telling him that artworks displayed in the park are not subject to their approval. Socrates Sculpture Park officials also placed a sign at the entrance to the park, warning of nudity inside. But George countered that it was too small, and Socrates officials responded again by saying they would “re-evaluate the sign” with the artist’s input. Finally, they decided on a tall wood fence, which was placed around the sculpture within the last week and a half.
Outside of the handful of commenters the Daily News was able to drum up and George the Atheist, it’s not clear whether any large number of people were offended by the sculpture. But the pressure worked. From pictures, it looks as though the new wood fence blocks the sculpture quite effectively, enclosing it on three sides and leaving only the heads of the figures visible from afar; the fourth, open side, is dominated by a cluster of trees. In an interview with the Times, Hatfield insisted that the fence does not constitute censorship: “Censorship would be to remove or alter the work itself, to deny the ability to see the work.”
Neither Socrates Sculpture Park nor Thordis Adalsteinsdottir responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment by the time of publication.
Update, 5:44pm EST: Socrates Sculpture Park has sent us a written statement from Executive Director John Hatfield. It reads, in part:
Public art, on occasion, can be challenging, and we support artists and artworks in the public domain that engage people on many different levels and topics.  We support Thordis Adalsteinsdottir’s figurative tableau, Bear Eats Man, as a thought-provoking work of art. In response to concerns about this particular sculpture, Socrates and the artist decided to create a perimeter outdoor area with signage so parents, guardians and teachers would be able to preview the artwork to decide if appropriate for minors. Similar to a museum setting, the partition allows visitors to decide if they wish to view the sculpture or not.
While we would ideally like our temporary public art to be embraced by everyone, we realistically expect a diversity of reactions—not all favorable–regardless of the style or content of the work. It is everyone’s first amendment right to express their concerns about and appreciation for this work of art. It has been, and continues to be, the role of artists to inspire and confound, elucidate and mystify, reveal truths and create fiction. Socrates Sculpture Park has exhibited over 900 hundred artists over 27 years and supports their creative endeavors.

I clicked on the pictures of the fence.  The fence appears to call attention to what is inside, making it more of a destination, something to be explored.  It's all so needless..

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Next Household Name!

The crowd at Philadelphia's Fabric Workshop and Museum yesterday waited as if for a rock star to make a stage entrance.  She had just represented the United States at the 2013 Venice Biennale.  When Sarah Sze appeared and started her artist's walk-through, she seemed so young for someone of her stature. It was wonderful to hear her talk about her three different installations filling three floors of the Workshop, the culmination of her participation in their Artist-in-Residence program.  In the slide-show talk afterwards she also showed her installations in and around the U.S. Pavilion at the Biennale and explained how the new work at the Fabric Workshop and Museum grew out of it.

The installation on the second level of the Fabric Workshop has the feel of a zen garden:

The rocks look very heavy, but actually are light.  They are armitures wrapped in Tyvek, printed with images of lichen.  The large flat panels against the wall are filled with the pattern of the lichen.  Sze started using these rocks in Venice, as in the first photo above.  She scattered some around Venice as well, without any identifying labels, and enjoyed how they just leaked out from the Pavilion.  She showed us pictures of rocks on the edge of a roof, atop a news stand, stuck in a window box.  They had personality and humor of their own. 

In showing us this photo of the central rotunda in the U.S. Pavilion in Venice, it was the closet, seen off the circle, that she talked about most.


Apparently it is a closet where all the artists who have represented the U.S. in previous years have left something of theirs.  During the exhibition, about half the stuff was other peoples, and half hers.  She seemed touchingly in awe, mentioning something from Alexander Calder and even Barnett Newman's hat.  There was more wonder and gratitude than ego in this brief glimpse we were given of her awareness of being a link in the chain of art history.  I wonder which item of hers got left in the closet when the show came down.

I first fell in love with her work in 2001 when she did a permanent installation in the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla, California, near where I lived.  I never knew someone could make a crumpled venetian blind into something of such transcendent beauty.  There is much to be said for loving and visiting a particular work of art over time, and being thrilled to see new things in it every time.  

In 2001 I bought a book of her work with great plates.  At the opening last night they were selling other newer bigger ones.  I looked on Amazon:  mine is out of print, available used at a big price.  I couldn't have given myself a better birthday present than to be there last night for her talks.  I hope I live long enough to see what she does in her 50's and 60's!

Monday, December 2, 2013

An iPad Drawing Class? Yes!

I keep making resolutions to do more sketching, and then I don't.  I just took the plunge and signed up for an iPad Drawing class at Fleisher Art Memorial.  Maybe I'll draw more consistently if it is digital. Maybe I'm out of my mind.  I downloaded the apps, hoping to have time to explore them before class starts.  The description was just too seductive.  It called to me:

The iPad packs in everything you need to be creative on the go; it’s like having an art studio at your fingertips. While it can’t replace the brushes and pencils we know and love, the iPad art applications can supplement your practice by allowing you to sketch, paint, prototype, and even annotate your photos. Come learn how to incorporate the iPad into your studio practice with help from instructor Jeff Dion.

Jeff   is an instructor at Moore College of Art and Design where he has integrated the iPad into curriculum including Life Drawing and Figure Painting. Jeff will demonstrate several apps to show you how to achieve different results including ASKetch, Sketchbook Pro, ArtRage and Adobe Photoshop Touch.

    This workshop will have live models for figure drawing in the last two weeks, your tuition includes the model fee.
    Image: Jeff Dion, iPad painting

I can't believe I just signed up for a class that runs from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. in South Philly.  I'll brave the night driving and tiredness. I must really want this. It's only a four week class.  The description says "All levels welcome".  I can do this.  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Up-Cycled Library Card Pockets: A Few More

The opening reception for Da Vinci Art Alliance's annual Holiday Exhibition and Sale:  Making Spirits Bright!  is Sunday December 8, 1-4, and runs through December 29th with all art priced under $200.  What more meaningful gift than an original artwork! This is a great opportunity to shop local, support the arts community, and find some treasures.

My Up-Cycled  Library Card Pockets will be part of the sale, with the following blurb:

by Susan Richards

Give that special person a unique one-of-a-kind artwork!
You can hide personalized secret wishes or affirmations inside.
Or tuck a gift card in the pocket for the most unusual gift card holder ever!
Get one for yourself to hold a special New Year's intention!
You can even make them into ornaments by adding a thread.
Be sure to look at both front and back.

$ 6 standard size / $8 large

They don't have stuff like this at the mall! And you can't beat the prices. Be sure to get to Da Vinci  during this great exhibit and sale!