Reactor

Statue Porn

by Ben Valentine on February 3, 2012

Within the past year I have become increasingly excited by art in the public sphere. Like many today, I believe that the arts have an integral place in society, and that artworks should no longer be trapped in museums and galleries for only a few to admire.

However, while learning more about public art, I began to notice a startling trend; it appears that the public possesses an odd affinity toward public works. Aside from the common images of the Statue of Liberty or the popular monuments in Washington, DC, I found image after image of art lovers groping, humping, licking and kissing public statues in a trend I have come to refer to as Statue Porn. I began looking for more of these photographs and compiled roughly 50 into this GIF.

I dismissed this public love affair with artworks as horseplay; mere childish humor for those who do not fully appreciate or understand art. Yet, as I found more and more images, I could not help but question this gut reaction, was I being snobbish? This is a trend, and as someone fascinated by public art, I cannot ignore the public’s reaction.

Honestly, how are we supposed to engage with a giant naked woman carved from stone? What interactions does the city hope to incite when they fund bronze statues of only naked white people who have been dead for many years and have no direct relevance to it’s location? I slowly came to believe Statue Porn is more a product of bad public art than a bad audience. I had made the easy mistake of blaming the public in these photographs, when I should be critical of the art itself.

*   *   *

Image credit in order of appearance. 1. autumnismyfavoritecolor on Flickr, 2. Jim Bates, Seattle Times, 3. Wuicho of Brown Planet, 4. lolgallery.com, 5. Photo of Shenae Grimes, unknown photographer, 6. Of Jamie Smith, unknown photographer, 7. Suicideblonde on Tumblr, 8. love2travelwritefilm.com, 9. Unknown photographer, 10. questioneverything.ca/features/parliamentary_comparisons, 11. zenith2007 on myLot, 12. jenmac on blogger, 13. Noelle Boc, 14. Vincent Abbey, 15. Peter Visontay, 16. Rylie on Tribe, 17. travish89 on myspace, 18. meri on blogger, 19. oddstuffmagazine.com/funny-poses-with-sculptures.html, 20. littlejessmo on flickr, 21. lolgallery.com, 22. lolgallery.com, 23. lolgallery.com, 24. lolgallery.com, 25. lolgallery.com, 26. lolgallery.com, 27. lolgallery.com, 28. zenosfrudakis.com/sculptures/public/index.html, 29.myoldmansaidfollowsunderland.blogspot.com, 30. justbarkingmad.com/?p=2212, 31. oddstuffmagazine.com/funny-poses-with-sculptures.html, 32. oddstuffmagazine.com/funny-poses-with-sculptures.html, 33. oddstuffmagazine.com/funny-poses-with-sculptures.html, 34. oddstuffmagazine.com/funny-poses-with-sculptures.html, 35. Mr. Nhi^^ on Flickr, 36. http://oddstuffmagazine.com/funny-poses-with-sculptures.html, 37. oddstuffmagazine.com/funny-poses-with-sculptures.html, 38. oddstuffmagazine.com/funny-poses-with-sculptures.html, 39. oddstuffmagazine.com/funny-poses-with-sculptures.html, 40. o6-carebear-o6.xanga.com, 41. oddstuffmagazine.com/funny-poses-with-sculptures.html, 42. oddstuffmagazine.com/funny-poses-with-sculptures.html, 43. oddstuffmagazine.com/funny-poses-with-sculptures.html, 44. Sierra Greaves, 45. lolgallery.com

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  • http://www.facebook.com/rwboyd Robert Boyd

    Across the street from the Menil Museum is a big Mark Di Suvero in a park. It includes a very large steeply angled piece of flat steel, covered with streaky layers of rust. Boys will often run up to the sculpture and try to run up the angled steel plate.

    At Rice University, there is a Michael Heizer sculpture called 45 degrees, 90 degrees, 180 degrees, which consists of enormous slabs of granite, one flat, one titled, and one upright. Things may have changed from the days when I was an undergrad, but back then, people sunbathed on the flat slab and made attempts to climb the other two slabs.

    Public art must necessarily allow for non-aesthetic reactions and interactions. Your question “What interactions does the city hope to incite when they fund bronze
    statues of only naked white people who have been dead for many years and
    have no direct relevance to it’s location?” implies that there is something wrong with people playfully getting photographed in sexual poses next to the statues. It also suggests that the behavior might be different if the statues were of “naked non-white people who are recently dead and quite relevant to their location.” I suggest that any statue of naked people anywhere, regardless of the “relevance” to the location, will provoke among some subset of viewers these juvenile, humorous reactions. And I contend that there’s nothing wrong with these reactions.

  • http://twitter.com/Bennnyv Ben Valentine

    Robert. When I was young, I was definitely like those boys and the di Surevo sculpture…

    I think that these poses are funny and fine interactions with public art, but they are certainly not very deep or meaningful. I think public art has the potential to produce better interactions, more thoughtful ones. I do think there should be a place for humour and fun in the public sphere, but there can be more.

    I also included naked to the list, so when you reverse it, the statues would be clothed… Do you think that there could be more meaningful engagements with works if they were more relevant to their place and time? That is all I am saying. The work necessitates certain interactions, maybe something like Freedom of Expression National Monument, http://creativetime.org/programs/archive/2004/freedom/speakup.html, provides a chance for the public to step up to be their best selves, not that having fun is not okay. I will say that there is a long history of creative people embracing boring sculptures in interesting and awesome ways: http://www.designboom.com/weblog/cat/10/view/8609/raphael-zarka.htmlhttp://www.kamilaszejnoch.com/en/projects/swing.html

    • http://www.facebook.com/rwboyd Robert Boyd

      You write” ” I think public art has the potential to produce better interactions, more thoughtful ones.” But your gif is a selective document. There may be people having better, more thoughtful reactions to those sculptures all the time. But perhaps they don’t get themselves photographed like the jokers in your gif. Or even if they are photographed, well, no one has produced a gif of them. In short, the reactions you document are not the only reactions possible–and indeed represent only a tiny minority of the reactions that viewers have to those specific pieces of art.

      I didn’t reverse out the “naked” because it seems to be at the heart of your complaint. You implied, without coming out and saying it, that nude statuary is inappropriate for public art because some jackasses out there will pose lewdly for photos with them. You added all those other conditions (white, long dead, no direct relevance to the location) seemingly to bolster your objection, but let’s be fair–these people in your gif aren’t posing with the dicks and boobs and asses because the figures are white, old, or irrelevant. They’re doing it because the statues are nude and in public.

      My conclusion is that you are opposed to public art that takes the form of nude statues.

      The thing is, people will have heterogeneous reactions to any piece of public art. Some people will climb up and interact with the Freedom of Expression National Monument, while others will walk right by without noticing it, and some will even despise it. Likewise, a realistic nude bronze statue may provoke prurient reactions from some viewers, as you found in your gif (which was totally amusing, by the way), while some may bask in the beauty of an idealized human form. It might be nice to imagine a work of art in public that only brings out viewer’s “best selves,” but the public is too varied to hope for a uniform reaction–much less a uniform positive reaction. For any piece of public artwork, some people will love it, some people will hate it, some people won’t get it, some people will be moved by it, some people will be intellectually stimulated by it, some people will get the wrong meaning from it, some people will be offended, etc. That some small minority of viewers will take lewd photos with nude statues doesn’t strike me as a sufficient reason not to have nude statues.

      (This is no judgment, positive or negative, about the statues in your gif. It goes by too quick for me to get a clear idea of what they look like, except to note they have dicks, boobs and asses…)

      • http://twitter.com/Bennnyv Ben Valentine

        It is true that there would still be Statue Porn if there were naked statues of culturally relavant, diverse, contemporary people, I am willing to bet that there would be less of it though.

        I definitely do not hope for public artworks that produce one response every time, that would be a boring piece of art. I am also not against public art having nudes, I think nude works dominate the field, and there is an opportunity for my engaging work that could be engaged with as the artist intended.

  • Den Hickey

    Well, I shall not elaborate on the penetrative act performed by a video student using the horn of the Rhino sculpture outside the SMFA when I was there.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think the public gets off the hook here. Same silly behavior happens in front of major paintings inside museums.

  • Anonymous

    the GIF is good, but a powerpoint type animation using ALL of the available crossfading, swirling and shaking effects as transitions would make this even better

  • http://twitter.com/Bennnyv Ben Valentine

    @richardkooyman:disqus I really want to know what you have seen in museums.
    @ZackAlan:disqus I actually thought about making it a powerpoint at first, and played with effects… so ridiculous, sounds included would be a nice touch.  If you make one send it my way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1303423377 Jeff Klein

    Does the existence of clowning preclude people from having meaningful, thoughtful, “better” interactions with public art?

    If I posted a pic of someone having a deep aesthetic appreciation of a statue to flickr … how could you tell?

  • http://atgallery.org/ Cat Weaver

    BEST SLIDE SHOW EV ER!

  • http://twitter.com/eflynn00 EF

    “I dismissed this public love affair with artworks as horseplay; mere childish humor for those who do not fully appreciate or understand art.”

    What’s obvious to me here is that the animated gif has captured one of the oldest documented form of human sexual fetishes, called Agalmatophilia. There’s even a Greek myth, called Pygmalion.

  • Mark Cranford

    In my nice little town is sculpture commissioned by Thomas Edison. “Ruth At The Well” was a depiction of a nude nubile white girl pouring water from a large jug. Set up on a pedestal and surrounded by bougainvillea, Edison hoped to inspire the populace with this Western classical ideal. Mina Edison (wife of Thomas) and a white woman’s league could not stand what they too considered “statue porn” and brought the sculptor back to have the work censored. To the pleasure of the angered women Ruth underwent genital mutilation and breast augmentation in the form of sculptor applied robe. To this day docents of the Edison / Ford Estate giggle when they recount this tale.
    I have been sharply rebuffed in my efforts in asking the public art committee to restore Edison’s benevolent vision. Be happy the pedestrians are just taking photographs and not carrying trowels and cement.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anton.chavez Anton Chavez

    If these people in the GIF  solely represent “the public” then surely we are all doomed.

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