Sunday, August 14, 2011

The question of bronze

New Chuck Berry statue on the Delmar Loop, St. Louis. photo courtesy the author.

Joe Edwards, guru of the Delmar Loop, the man who single-handedly revived the commercial district near my house, has long admired Chuck Berry. Berry plays monthly gigs at Edward's Blueberry Hill restaurant / club, and they recently installed this bronze statue of Berry, right across from Blueberry Hill.

Nice hommage.

Too bad it doesn't look like Chuck Berry.

Another problem with the Berry statue--given the historical record is complicated, it doesn't do Chuck Berry any good to call him the "father of rock and roll"--it cheapens him.

What is it about the lack of refinement of bronze statuary?

Statue of Pat Tillman. photo Sheldon Branford.

This reminds me of the Pat Tillman statue the Arizona Cardinals put up of Tillman after his death by friendly fire in Iraq. Horrific face! Must frighten children!

Picture of Pat Tillman. (c) NBC sports.

A literal translation of an equally disturbing photograph. But the photograph has the life, color and movement that the statue only mangles. Why are sports people so enamored of bad representative art?

Dred and Harriet Scott plaque on the Delmar Loop Walk of Fame. photo courtesy the author.

This plaque for St. Louis-natives Dred and Harriet Scott is much more compelling as a complex public statement than the bad Berry statue.

What I do like about the proximity of the Scott plaque (Tina Turner is nearby) and the Berry statute is how it suggests the role that St. Louis has played in American life with the birthing of African American artists / activists as diverse as the Scotts and Chuck.

While St. Louis has to grapple more effectively with race--as does every other city in the country--this symbolic representation puts diverse citizens together in ways they would not have been in real life. Now that's a great public service.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Museum standards

I took this picture in an unnamed museum this past week. Several thoughts came to mind:

That no matter how hard you and your team might work, something as insignificant as this--a registrar's identification tag sticking out from behind a painting--can sink the way the public sees you. Reminds me of my first visit to the new Tate building that had shoe prints on the wall. It was mid-week--the staff had at least a few days to clean up from weekend crowds. Sloppy!

Museums are a tough balance between asking broad, intelligent questions about material, social, political and cultural life and the pernicious details of crossing t's and dotting i's.

Having started off as a cataloguer at the Museum of Modern Art, I crossed a lot of t's. In my current post I am looking at some of the bigger questions that artists can help us as a society address. Keeping these poles of activity together is a tough task, but it separates the good institutions from the mediocre.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Museum material culture

Harley Davidson Museum, Milwaukee. All photos courtesy the author.

We finally broke down and visited the Harley-Davidson Museum in downtown Milwaukee.

It's astonishing how the area has been transformed--beautiful pathways and native prairie plantings bordering the Menominee River. Loads of parking for bikes and cars.

Sculpture. Enough said.

Why--WHY--are bronze statues so awful? No wonder people hate public art. This image of a hill racer recalls a fantastic interactive computer program in the Museum where you can pick your hill, sprocket shape and speed and see if your cartoon effigy makes it up the hill. This guy--he's going down, his bike will smack him in the head and boom, early retirement.

Earliest H-D motorcycles.

I loved all the different bikes. Evidently a few other companies were making bikes before Harley--Indian, Pope--but Harley was the first one to do motorcycles only, not bicycles first.

Wall of tanks.

And the designers know either the Vitra Museum or Andreas Gursky. Gorgeous!

Prettiest tank!

They changed graphics, colors and models every year, starting almost from the beginning.

Founders: three Davidsons, one Harley.

Loved this old picture. Their display of material culture was pretty beautiful. I was rather dreading how gear-headed the descriptions could have been, but there was a lot to enjoy without being a "knucklehead".

Typical museum-goers.

Ya baby, lots of Harley owners there. They've got their own vocabulary. Have they heard of wife-beaters, or is this where the phrase comes from?

Cool petroglyph.

Gorgeous use of varied graphic design.

Engines on wall.

Again, Vitra.

Museum design.

Lovely display of objects--how to enliven things that do not change dramatically?

Mod motor oil ad.

They tried to hip it up in the 70s--perhaps this is when their marketing lost track of their audience?

Harley wedding dress.

Enough said.

Album covers.

I loved that Minnie Pearl did an album cover on a Harley.

There was not much about the later years--the virtual bankruptcy, the Jay Leno effect--which leaves the story still storybook. But I suppose real Harley people know it--in any case, it was an elegant space with groovy objects.

I was willing to go to the Harley Museum because of a shift in my thinking when Kevin had to shoot the 100th anniversary parade. I came to discern the different bike shapes--I'm an Indian woman myself--and the different sub-cultures of riders.

Categories I counted:

gay couples (over 10)
mixed-race couples (almost 5)
woman driving man (1)
Japanese couple (1)
people standing on their bikes (4)
wedding dresses (3)

The other hundreds of riders who made it into the anniversary parade were as you might suspect--Grateful Dead look-alikes with their molls on the back. But I was still surprised by the diversity where I thought there would be none.

Harley is an American success story--none of the founders were from here, they started off in a 10 x 15' shack and became a global phenomenon. As bad as gas is, motorcycles and cars still freed people from their farms, their families and their futures by letting them run away and create a new life. That's something to celebrate, and Milwaukee had a role in that.