I was recently asked to participate in an Art Walk by putting my work in a storefront window on a well-trafficked downtown street. Normally, given the kind of art I do (no pretty pictures, lots of raunch), I avoid events like this like the plague. It’s one thing for someone to come to a gallery to see my work – they get what they deserve; it’s another to have it shoved in their face. I always believed that public art needed to consider the public. If it meant tamer work, so be it. Artists can create whatever they want in their studios, but passer-bys shouldn’t be forced to look at it.
Anyhow, someone from the local business council recently contacted me about putting my work in the window of the Bridal Shop on Bedford Street, a primo spot with lots of foot traffic. Given my sentiments about controversial public art, I was hesitant as to whether my satirical work was appropriate. The owner of the store and the representative from the council in charge of the walk came to my studio and enthusiastically selected a group of life-size paper dolls that poked (gentle) fun at racial, ethnic and other stereotypes. We decided that the dolls (all seven of them) would look great in the store’s window. One of my characters, a pregnant, “possibly” Hispanic teen-ager could wear a wedding veil from the shop’s collection. She would stand in front and the others, all in fancy underwear, would form the wedding party. When we installed the figures, the response from passer-bys was heart warming. Everyone saw the humor and loved the work. Crowds gathered, laughing and praising the installation.
And then the trouble began. The director of the sponsor, the downtown business council, said my work would cause a problem (racial stereotyping). My pregnant teen-ager with her wedding veil would have to go. “But, that’s the whole point.” I protested. “I’m making fun of stereotyping!” She replied that she didn’t want to deal with all the angry phone calls. I told her to tell them to call me and I would deal with them. We ended up compromising (that’s what Public Art is about) and my curly-haired “Latina” could stay in the window, but without the veil and not up front.
To the best of my knowledge, nobody protested, although literally hundreds of people attended the Art Walk. I was told that everyone loved the dolls…thought they were hilarious, even the “stereotypes” themselves liked them. I heard of only one complaint. Someone walked by at the end and threw a paper cupful of coffee at the window, protesting that I was making fun of “fat people.” True, but I was also making fun of skinny people, old people, various ethnic types, etc. I’m an “equal opportunity” satirist. That’s what art is supposed to do, elicit a reaction, even if it’s only a cup of coffee tossed at a piece of glass!
So, all in all, I consider the event a success. I probably won’t be invited back next year, (too controversial) but, what the hell! This year was fun.