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Marco Cochrane, “Truth Is Beauty” (2013) (photo by torroid/Flickr)

A 55-foot-tall steel mesh sculpture of a naked, dancing woman that lights up with 3,000 LED bulbs dazzled Burning Man attendees in 2013, but residents of Bay Area city San Leandro — where it will reside permanently as of next summer — are split on its artistic merits.

Originally built for the annual desert festival, “Truth Is Beauty” was conceived by California-based artist Marco Cochrane as part of his Bliss Project, a three-work series he created in response to the rape of his childhood friend to encourage female empowerment and self-acceptance. The statue will find a permanent home at San Leandro’s new tech campus, as ABC7 reported, a move that its developer, Westlake Urban, sees as an “opportunity to share the message … in an environment that encourages the success of women in technology.”

The developer added in a statement: “‘Truth Is Beauty’ tells a powerful story, and we hope it will inspire and ignite conversations about the possibility of a world where women are free from violence and are free to fully express themselves.”

City planners had required that the developer of the new, 7.3-acre campus — which promotes the sculpture on its home page — dedicate 1% of its budget to public art. San Leandro’s first Chief Innovation Officer Deborah Acosta, who called the sculpture “beautiful,” cited art as “the underlying base for anytime you’re doing innovation.” However, some locals find the work’s nudity tasteless and overly prominent considering the intended site, and several expressed their disapproval through good, old-fashioned epistolary commentary, delivered to the local San Leandro Times.

Artist Marco Cochrane talking about “Truth Is Beauty” (photo via Josh Keppel/Facebook)

“Truth is beauty, but tacky is forever,” 45-year resident Gerry Isham poetically noted. “I don’t think she is porn, but I don’t think she fits into the art category, maybe craft.” She offered two possible solutions: “OSIsoft should build a 56-foot atrium for ‘Truth Is Beauty’ to reside in, or send her to live in Las Vegas where she would be right at home.”

Another reader, one Peter Ambrosia who considers the statue inappropriate for a public setting, had a suggestion of a very different nature. “If the lady is going to just stand there all day,” Ambrosia wrote, “I propose that the Burning Man artist be commissioned to create her a male partner, modeled after California’s ex-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime, with all anatomical parts in place (just like the woman). Should make a dazzling light show.”

One 40-year resident, meanwhile, welcomed the news of the statue’s arrival, begging the city and developer to “not be swayed by those who do not appreciate art.” It’s likely that such critics of “Truth Is Beauty” are not familiar with the story behind the graceful sculpture, which garnered praise when Cochrane first unveiled it in the stunning landscape of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Rolling Stone described it as “one of the most beautiful and striking art installations on the playa at Burning Man 2013,” a sentiment echoed by many others.

Despite the bursts of local opposition, San Leandro Tech Campus intends to proceed with the sculpture’s installation next year. Plans to pair “Truth Is Beauty” with an anatomically accurate, gun-toting Schwarzenegger in the nude have yet to be announced.

Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE, Gothamist, Artnews, Smithsonian Magazine,...

15 replies on ““Truth Is Beauty, but Tacky Is Forever””

    1. Is it at all worse than the woman’s porn mandala the author lauded in her last article? This guy’s sculpture may be tacky, but it’s not reducing women to vaginas in the way “feminist” art so often does.

        1. I didn’t give a reading of feminist art. I cited feminist art that is superficial, specifically the vagina product line.

      1. I didn’t see that article. But her last sentence in this one seemed to be making a joke of it all.

        1. Flippant is the way I’d describe it. If you click her name and read her previous article, you can see she’s just being a platorm for an amateurish female artist, while misreading, or misrepresenting, legitimate feminist criticism as “conservative” (which must be wrong). The author is a staff writer, which requires producing a lot of writing, but some of the writing just uses art as an excuse to advance a fairly unreflective political agenda, specifically one that polices gender, which is a core editorial goal of this publication, as far as I can see, at least on the weekdays.

          1. hi Harper, “conservative” was used in the context of the Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party, where the opposition came from. thanks for reading!

          2. Omitting “Progressive” from “Progressive Conservative” in reference to Scott is perhaps the clearest example of the manipulative and misleading nature of that article.

            Her stance against pornography is thoroughly feminist.

          3. Have you perchance read the title of your own stupid article?

            “Conservative Politician Demands Removal of Sexual Mandala, Gallery Refuses”

            Enough with the sophistries.

  1. The argument about art is a cover for people in the U.S. – even it’s presumably more erudite members – having a discomfort, perhaps even allergy, to nudity, and the implied sexuality, not for exploitive or abusive associations, but repressive. Tacky or not, and calling it that is arguably a genuinely isolated elitist view, the U.S., as it has become with many things, in supreme irony, is exceptionalist in it’s ignorance, and rather alone in the world, as almost every other place on earth accepts the human body as it is, the male one too (as is so “brazenly” proposed as a retort to this female one) with ease.

  2. i prefer Cochrane’s more naturalistic sculpture to Richard MacDonald’s exaggerated hyperreal dance figures. now Those are tacky : )

  3. I’ve seen this sculpture up close many times and I think it’s incredibly beautiful and powerful. There’s an openness and accepting nature to the pose, but it’s still strikes strong and defiant. Its sheer size is also imposing and awe inspiring. I’ll take it if no one wants it.

    In regards to the nudity. HAHA. Who is complaining about the David by Michelangelo from the Renaissance?

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