Thursday, March 29, 2012

Butt-Fugly Public Art of the Week-- March 29th

Open Air Aquarium by Magdalena Abakanowicz

Pier 30 (Kenilworth Street Pier, 717 South Columbus Boulevard)

Oh, that's where I put my silver turds! Image from
                          This is yet another case where Philadelphia's only piece by an otherwise very strong artist has to be a pathetic piece of rhinoceros shit. Or in this case, pieces. This is also yet another case where the Percent-for-Fart program forced a developers hand, resulting in a crappy and shoehorned-in piece of shit. I've already made it clear on this blog that the Residences at Dockside building is a Crudulous pile of Donkey Testicles. As bad as the building is, I still don't think it looks worse than the crappy art that was forced to be installed in front of it.
                          Open Air Aquarium consists of 30 stainless steel fish-like shapes on poles 12 feet off the ground in two plazas. Each fish weighs between 125 and 150 pounds and are between 6 and 8 feet long. The forms are abstract and have fucked up edges. They look like if God's silver shit fell from the sky and stopped in mid-air. It would look nicer if the sculptures actually looked like fish. It would be cornier, but not nearly as horrendous looking. 
                        This arrangement of scrap metal began when the shitty Dockside building was first proposed. The developer, Peter DePaul and the DePaul Group, was fighting to build Dockside by Piers 9 and 11 (now Race Street Pier). A firestorm of local residents and politicians forced it down to the much shittier location it ended up in, pissing off the developer. Then, once the move was confirmed, OTHER local residents and politicians forced changes in the design. As a compromise, DePaul set the building further back on Fuckface Pier and then created a small public park space in front. DePaul then assumed that the park was enough to satisfy the Percent-for-Shit requirement.
                       Construction began and the Redevelopment Authority started asking about public art. The park would not qualify and DePaul would have to drop an extra $500,000 on some government-mandated piece of fuck. After being bullied into moving their (ugly) building down to Pier 30 AND being forced to change their design once it got there, the DePaul Group had enough of this shit. They said, "Fuck the Percent-for-Art program", and attempted to be the largest project ever to be exempt since the requirement's start in 1959.
                       Since they had already started construction, it was too late to apply for an exemption. DePaul basically just said, "Fuck y'all" and went about their business with the assumption that they just wouldn't deal with it further. In the meantime, the RDA had already commissioned famous Polish artist Magdelena Abakanowicz to create those ugly ass fish you see in the picture above. Once word got out that DePaul was going to forego the Percent-for-Fart shit, backlash started coming from all sides.. especially since they accepted $6 million of government funds to reinforce the pier.
                        As usual, the press blew it out of proportion and implied that the Percent-for-Art program would end forever if DePaul got his way. Petitions swirled all over the city and internet claiming a "Percent-for-Art Crisis!!!" Mayor Street and Councilman DiCicco got their dirty asses involved, but DePaul stood strong, like he was the Rosa Parks of developers who've had enough of the bullshit. Eventually, city Commerce Director James J. Cuorato somehow convinced them to put the silvery shitfish up. The sculptures were installed in May, 2003.

Yay, fish... sorta.
                              Once installed, everyone went apeshit over them, especially because a somewhat famous artist was involved. After all, Abakanowicz's other work around the world is great. Most people just pretended that this piece was just as good as her other stuff. Even Peter DePaul pretended that he liked Open Air Aquarium. After a couple of years went by, everyone just got used to them, sort of like when you get used to an old empty lot or abandoned building. You hate that its there, but you've come to accept it.
                             Then, a hero came. In November 2005, one of the shitfish went missing! Someone had actually stolen one and sold it for scrap. Many assumed it was just a desperate thief, but I think it was a person who hated the sculptures so much that they went into a fit of rage and tried to take them down one by one, but gave up after dumping the first one into the river. To bad they couldn't finish the job. 
                            Don't get me wrong here folks... I love the Percent-for-Art requirement. The thing is, developers have a hard enough time trying to get shit built in this city. If the requirement gets to a point where the developer's bottom line gets threatened, it will discourage others to build. The Percent-for-Art requirement has brought a lot of wonderful things to this city, so it should stay alive, but I'm just saying: Let's not overdo it. Also, elephant scrotum.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know what the rules are for the Percent-for-Art program, but I would think the more demanding the program is, the less meaningful our public art becomes. I mean commissioning an artist isn't like hiring a lawyer or an architect. You don't have to be certified. There really isn't much stopping a developer from dropping a D on his sidewalk and saying, "I'm an artist too, and there's my contribution."