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Absurd art stains department's image

THE UNIVERSITY is an attractive place. It is full of spaces that delight the tourist's camera and titillate the casual history buff. Unfortunately, there is a faction prowling about doing bad things to these places of beauty. This group is U.Va.'s artistic community, and their rampant tampering with University Grounds must stop.

The Buddha statues, the morbid collages in front of Fayerweather Hall, and the dirty bed sheets hanging in the garden next to the Bayly Art Museum all are examples of these artists' tamperings with the beauty of the University.

Artists often have very vain ideas about their work -- namely that other people have a desire to view them. This is the problem with public art displays. Not all of them are as enjoyable to the public as their creators would like to think. Some art projects are designed with thought, and crafted with great skill. They're pleasing to look at, and they enlighten the viewer in multiple planned ways. However, much artwork today, including the current displays around the University, intentionally goes against these ideas.

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  • Bayly Art Museum

    More and more, artists are cranking out haphazard, ambiguous pieces that neither display any artistic skills nor contain any set meanings for others to discover. Rather, the trend is to be as vague and defiant as possible. Defiance is not always bad. Yet when it's taken to such extremes that it results in the ridiculous public art projects on display right now around Grounds, then there is indeed a problem.

    What makes projects like the Buddha array and the Fayerweather bone mobile ridiculous is that they gleefully show off a lack of substance. Their creators might defend them by stating that everyone comes away from them with something different, and therefore they possess infinite meanings. This is a cop-out. It isn't hard to create something entirely ambiguous and call it art. The public artwork around Grounds at the moment appears to strive for this achievement, and the results are interesting but depressingly shallow.

    For instance, hanging from a tree in front of Fayerweather Hall are several large, peculiar objects. Heavy, dirty cloths billow in the breeze. Next to these hangs a grotesque tangle of bones and sticks that seems straight out of The Blair Witch Project.

    There are several elements to these objects that make them objectionable as public artwork. First, they do not express the full range of talent that their creators most likely possess. Second, they deride the viewer by presenting an intentionally shallow experience and daring everyone to make sense of it. The artist's enjoyment of his own creation would come from the frustration of his audience. It is a shame that today's artistic trends aim at intimidating and laughing at the viewer rather than striving for enlightenment and delight in craftsmanship.

    One of the University's most delightful hidden spaces on Grounds is the small garden to the side of the Bayly Art Museum. It is an intimate outdoor room perfect for studying or napping. However, the University's art students have struck again even in this peaceful, secluded enclave. Jarringly out of place amid the stone benches and ivy are now white bed sheets hanging from the plantings like laundry left out to dry. Marked on the sheets are outlines of a human figure.

    The whole display looks suspiciously like a kindergarten art class project. The quiet, green atmosphere of the garden is ruined by an awkward, self-aware inside joke. It is impossible to study there now with the distraction of a big white bed sheet waving around in the periphery.

    The goal of these public displays seems to be to promote the arts on Grounds and to add to the University's handsome physical features. This goal is not successful. While these transient outdoor displays may remind people that, yes, there still is an art department around here, they do not speak very highly of it. Rather than attract others to the department, they may actually frighten people away. Sculptures made from animal carcasses hanging from trees are never a good marketing technique for any department.

    Rather than showing off the talents of the art students, these outdoor projects instead display a disregard for finely-honed skill and a delight in absurdity. In addition, they detract from their surroundings. There is no place for a bundle of bones and sticks or dirty bed sheets hanging from trees on University Grounds. Perhaps if this school were oriented more toward the arts, these few ridiculous projects would be forgivable and maybe even unnoticed. As it is now, they stick out like ketchup stains on a silk necktie.

    (Maverick McNeel is a Cavalier Daily viewpoint writer.)


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