Well before the NCAA announced sanctions against Penn State for the administration and athletic department’s complicity in widespread and years-long sexual abuse of children, a heated debate was underway about the larger than life sculpture of the legendary Joe Paterno. That this work of on-campus public art celebrated the earlier, unsullied image of Paterno made it now an unseemly reminder of his complicity and a slap in the collective face of Jerry Sandusky’s victims. Like the bust of Saddam Hussein that was unceremoniously toppled in Iraq, the work of art had come to represent something unintended and powerful—a commentary on our contemporary selves.
And art is complicated that way. That which is meant to be pleasing can become provocative—the provocative beautiful. At its heart art helps us reflect on who we are personally and as a community. And it sometimes does so in ways we don’t see coming or even think about.
In a slightly more playful way, just as the Man/Woman statue in front of Penn Station was beginning to seem mundane (perhaps not to visitors, but to those of us who see it everyday), a gigantic crash test dummy was erected right across the street as part of Artscape. What were these two trying to say to one another? To us? Did it make us consider each in a new way that was outside the realm of understanding or vision for a certain snarky Washington Post columnist who wrote about Artscape last Saturday?
So look around Baltimore and think about some of the art we take for granted, or try to see things through fresh eyes. What does it mean to you to enter the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse downtown in the shadow of Cecil Calvert “resplendent in seventeenth century knee breeches and broad brimmed hat” (Christopher George)? Does it matter if you are a juror, a defendant, or a witness? And what about our iconic buildings and landmarks? Has their creative energy helped shape our community in ways that we think about the Golden Gate Bridge and the Seattle Space Needle?
Speaking of seeing things in unexpected ways, Art Bytes takes off at The Walters this weekend. This hackathon event brings together the technological and creative communities to build programs and applications inspired by art or to address specific challenges faced by museums. I am honored to be a judge for the event and look forward to learning about proposed solutions using technology to experience a collection or virtually access archives.
Finally, be sure to check out the new Dan Deacon video on YouTube–great music combined with appearances by many familiar Baltimoreans including our own Doreen Bolger!