Thursday, April 26, 2012

Butt-Fugly Public Art of the Week-- April 26th

Video Arbor by Nam June Paik

Franklin Town Boulevard

How it looks most of the time-- like shit. Pic from
                      Ah jeez... Video Art. Video Installations. Video Assholeryness. These things are so fucking horrible. Sometimes art has a way of getting into realms it should never cross. Television SHOWS are more artistic than television art. Here we have a situation where the video art is so bad, its an insult to video art itself, which already sucks! Its like if your ass cancer had cancer on its ass!
                     Stupid fucking Franklintown. The worse revitalization plan in the history of concrete. Franklintown Boulevard is like no other diagonal street in town. It wasn't like the others you see in Center City that used to be highways to other towns that got taken over by the street grid. Franklintown Boulevard was artificially placed into the street grid by the dumbshits who thought Franklintown was the Philly of the future. It was originally supposed to have moving sidewalks. Seriously.

                    In 1987, 16 years after Franklintown was first proposed, the butt-fugly One Franklin Town was built. To satisfy its percent-for-art requirement, they called in a famous artist known as the Andy Warhol of Korea, Nam Jun Paik. Paik is known as the father of video art... that's like saying you're the father of asscheese.
                  Paik saw this as an opportunity to do something new. He had never designed a permanently outdoor video art display, so for this piece, he would mount 84 video monitors way up in the air on a big-ass arbor that would eventually become overgrown with shrubbery (landscape design was by John Bentley). Paik researched ways of having outdoor television sets stay functional for years and would use a technologically-advanced recording for the video sequences-- laserdisc. The tv sets would be displayed in three rows, showing two different videos at once. One is a mish-mash of corny Philadelphia images interspersed with crap, the other is geometric-looking shit changing shapes. This stupendous pile of donkey turds was dedicated in October of 1990.  It was named Video Arbor, since it is an arbor of videos. Finally... a name for an art piece that isn't pretentious as fuck.
                  The biggest problem with this piece is that it only can truly be appreciated at night. During the day, it just looks like a bunch of shitty broken tv screens with plants all over the place. Paik seems to have attempted to solve this problem by placing small reliefs of circuitboards around along with sundail and clock imagery as a distraction, but it doesn't work. 
                   As anyone could have guessed, the televisions didn't stay functional. If you put 84 TV's outside, even with the best protection, you're always going to have a few that won't work forever. Its just a matter of statistical probability. Now, 22 years later, even if the TV's were indoors there would be some fucked up ones. Its not clear when they stopped playing the video due to too many fucked up screens, but I remember seeing the them functioning in 2004.
                   Amber Dorko Stopper, a big fan of Paik's work, first noticed that the screens weren't being activated in 2006. She worked for years to get the videos back up and running. Finally, this last January, Paik's Folly aka Video Arbor was reactivated. Here's her video of it. You can see that more than half the screens don't work. Useless. 
                   Why did anyone think this piece of shit was a good idea? Video for a PERMANENT outdoor art piece? I don't think they understood what permanent meant. In 1,000 years, most of the old bronze statues and shit from the early days of Philadelphia public art will still be standing, looking the same if not better with age. That's permanence. In 1,000 years, Video Arbor, if still standing, will have wisteria covering its broken screens because no one will ever know that they used to play video. That's not permanent. That's crap.

Here's a pic from showing more of the screens working.


  1. Even when this installation was new it was a pile of donkey turds. I moved into that neighborhood in early 1990, and saw this shortly after it was installed. The "art" would have blown my mind on Nightflight even then, but in the cold light of day on a city street it just didn't pull any weight.

    I mean, even now -- with the screens dead -- it beats the totally shitty Ben Franklin statue over nearby Vine street, but that's no justification.

  2. This must have cost a fortune (wasted money) to implement, let alone the continuing amount needed to power some 80 cathode ray TVs!