If you want evidence of the way government corrupts culture, consider the 16-foot fiberglass statue unveiled in mid-December in front of the new ten-acre IKEA store in Burbank, California. You can decide for yourself whether the thing looks like a penis — as most people seem to think — or whether it’s simply a meaningless piece of junk.
In either case, you don’t have to be a philistine to see that it’s crap. Of the many purposes of art — beauty, instruction, charm, mystery, emotional expression, simple decoration — it is wholly innocent. It could serve, at best, as a come-on for a nightclub or a way of luring chance passersby to a used car lot.
The major reason this piece of “public art” was foisted upon the public is that the city of Burbank has a law mandating such things.
So why is it there? One reason is our culture’s oddly traditional respect for the self-advertised avant-garde, which has posed as new and edgy for the past 100 years. The IKEA object was made by what the august Los Angeles Times has called “a renowned artist and art professor” at a state university. How edgy is that, dude!
I love the zeal with which corporate executives embrace the free and provocative spirit that haunts the avant-garde. One of these revolutionaries lauded IKEA’s hunk of junk by noting, in the free-spirited, provocative manner of giant corporations, that
art can challenge our expectations and our imagination in a new way. Our art was inspired by floral motifs resembling a highly abstract giant vase. It appears as a large free-standing figure, playful and open for multiple readings.
In other words, it’s yet another version of the avant-garde theory of the 1920s, coupled with the meaningless abstractionism of the 1950s and the kitsch of the 1840s. Great combination.
It’s not enough for government to run everything else; now it’s got to mandate and approve (or disapprove) artistic taste.
But the major reason this piece of “public art” was foisted upon the public is that the city of Burbank has a law mandating such things. To quote the LA Times, echoing a Burbank city official (who said of the public, “If they like it, that’s fantastic, but if they don’t, that’s OK”):
[Completion of the statue] marked IKEA’s fulfillment of Burbank’s Art in Public Places ordinance, which requires that 1% of the cost for a major project must go toward an art piece at the site or be placed in the city’s Public Art Fund. . . . [T]he Arts in Public Places Committee approved the project this past January and [it] cost IKEA $360,000.
So it’s not enough for government to run everything else; now it’s got to mandate and approve (or disapprove) artistic taste. That the approved taste turns out to be ugly and ridiculous follows naturally.
But there’s an even more natural set of causes and consequences. A well known economic principle states that “bad money drives out good.” That principle applies to what you have to buy as well as the currency with which you have to buy it. When government inflates the price of bad art, it drives good art out of the market. Simple as that. And I’m not being “playful.”