Thursday, October 3, 2013

"Fleurs et Riviere"

(Brian Kelly / ArtPrize /September 18, 2013)

This is artist and screen printer David Dodde's submission to ArtPrize - an important and popular art competition held annually in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  His idea was to transform the city's most iconic sculpture, Alexander Calder's "La Grande Vitesse", into something new by applying various flower shapes that had been cut out of a non-permanent magnetic material.

I'll come right out and admit that I love it.  I think it's creative, whimsical, and beautiful.  Just like Calder's work.

But apparently someone complained about it, as someone always does in matters like this, and the city decided to remove the flowers after receiving a harsh letter from The Calder Foundation (headed by Sandy Rower, Calder's grandson) declaring that it was an "abomination" and added nothing to the dialogue of the sculpture.  Pretty harsh.

Note - this isn't the first time that La Grande Vitesse has been decorated as part of various events or fundraisers - city manager Greg Sundstrom estimates that it has been done "over 100 times over the last 45 years", but you can bet this will be the last.

I give credit to the city for allowing the flowers to remain on the Calder long enough for them to be seen by the artist's son (who has Down Syndrome) as part of a class trip that had been planned.  I also give credit to the officials at ArtPrize for allowing Dodde's submission to remain in the competition, even after the flowers were removed.  Out of 1,524 entries it was voted into the top 100 in the first round of voting but did not make the final top 10.  A winner will be announced tomorrow.

I understand that the Calder Foundation's mission is to protect and promote the work of Alexander Calder and I would imagine that in decisions like this, Mr. Rower would try to carry out policy in accordance with what he believes his grandfather would decide if he were still alive. Do you think that Alexander Calder would have been upset by this piece?  I don't, but perhaps I'm wrong. I suppose if anyone should know it would be Mr. Rower.  Perhaps the Foundation was fed up with 45 years worth of "abuse" to the sculpture and grew tired of pink breast cancer awareness ribbons, knitted webs (a submission to last year's ArtPrize), images of the sculpture on city street signs, letterheads, and garbage trucks...perhaps flowers were just the final straw.

Personally. I am not surprised by any of this and I think that the decision was a mistake and bad PR for the Foundation especially if comments like this one, which I found here and have copied below, are any indication of popular opinion:

leodegras at 4:40 PM October 02, 2013
Letter I sent today to the Calder Foundation ...
Dear Sir or Madam:

Was it really necessary to send such a rude letter to ArtPrize? Was it really necessary to hurt the feelings of Mr. Dodde, who did nothing but put removable flowers on Mr. Calder's sculpture? And to cave in to the snobbish complaints of the few, while the many quite liked the happy, silly, harmless flowers? I simply do not understand. And this:

"Foundation president and Calder's grandson Alexander S.C. Rower last week sent a letter to city officials calling Dodde's work an "abomination."",0,4945980.story

Now you have garnered unpleasant notice from the press and the public. Is that really a goal of your foundation? As we all move forward in time the sculptures and mobiles begin to look a bit dated. Does Mr. Rower not have sufficient work to occupy his time? He seems to have ample opportunity to write nasty letters to well-meaning folk; perhaps he can cast about for a way to fill his days other than riding on grandfather's coat-tails. I can only wonder at the judgment and bad manners of Mr. Rower. There is the true "abomination."

For shame.

Wendy Howard
Washington, D.C.

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