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The Fallacy of Public Art Pt. 4 – Adding Insult to Injury

I have written several posts on why I feel civic Public Art Programs are a farce. I call the series, The Fallacy of Public Art, and there is Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Here, I illustrate four examples of public art competitions from which I’ve been rejected, and then to add insult to injury, the “artist” or “artist team” who was selected proceeded to contact me to create their proposal.

In 1995, I was rejected from an open call competition to create an art work for the newly completed sport arena for the Vancouver Grizzlies basketball team. Bear in mind, I was at the time a professional stone sculptor with extensive experience with carving granite, and I was still rejected. Liz Magor, darling of the Vancouver art world as a graduate from the Emily Carr School of Art & Design was the selected artist. She proposed to create several huge granite basketballs, yet she had absolutely no experience in carving, nor knowing the cost to produce her idea. So she contacted me to see if I would do the work. When I told her the cost, she was aghast. After contacting several other sculptors, she realized I was not gouging, and she managed to stick handle a change in her proposal to do the balls in bronze instead.

In 1999, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler Hotel was doing a major renovation. A public art component was part of the project, and I was rejected from the open call competition. Muse Atelier, a public art team of architect Jackie Metz and economist Nancy Chew did win. A major component of their proposal was a huge granite poppy pod. Neither ladies had an ounce of experience in carving stone, nor costing it out. They called me to see if I would make the pod for them. Upon consultation, it became clear that not only did the two need a sculpture carved, but they had no idea what it would look like. Normally, an artigiani will copy or point up a stone sculpture from a master maquette, but Jackie and Nancy wanted a completely original sculpture carved – and they had budgeted tuppence to pay for it. I initially agreed to do the work, but after agreeing on a price, the two began adding to the project work without adding to the budget. In the end, they suckered another sculptor to do the work.

In 2000, I was rejected from an open call competition again in Whistler, Canada. Up to that point, it was the one and only of my 120 attempts where I was short-listed in an open call public art competition. The Municipality was seeking a “story teller’s” chair for a small park they were building. I had in my inventory, a three ton granite bolder chair that swiveled. The jury loved the piece, but rejected me because the piece already existed. They wanted to commission an artist to create something that had not already been made. That’s the mentality of the people who are involved with public art. I had exactly what they wanted, yet they did not want it.

Finally, in 2008 I was contacted by Adam Kuby, as he had been shortlisted in a Seattle area open call public art competition. With almost 30 years of experience in carving granite, I was rejected from the competition, but Adam, with no experience in carving stone had been short-listed. He asked if I could hollow out granite blocks for his proposal,  then split the blocks in four pieces and how much would it cost? Needless to say, he did not know a thing about budgeting for his idea, and not liking my price, he went looking elsewhere.  Incidentally, Adam had won a competition for a project here in North Vancouver a year earlier, which was created in granite, but his “sculpture” consisted of blocks that were cut at local fabrication company and found river boulders. I had been rejected from that open call.

The point here is why is it that a professional stone sculptor with years of experience is consistently rejected from open call public art competitions, yet “artists” with no experience in carving stone do get the commissions for proposals involving the medium of stone?!

Comments: 5

  • June 3, 2013

    Michael, if someone can answer your final question, they can probably also tell us why the Universe exists.

    Good piece.

    To quote a very good African musician as he walked off stage after showcasing just before my group was to go out at an educational performing arts booking event: “It’s all BULLSHIT.” A truer statement was never made.

  • June 3, 2013

    I like the Einstein quote that “Great spirits have always faced violent opposition from mediocre minds”. Hope you are well!

  • June 3, 2013

    I hear you brother!

    I have experienced this numerous time myself.

    Just remember they are the ones who really lost…


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