In what is apparently not an April Fools’ joke, a group of current and former Columbia University students is protesting the installation of a Henry Moore sculpture on campus. The four students (one alumnus and three current seniors) expressed their horror in an op-ed in the Columbia Daily Spectator, the school’s paper. It begins: “On Monday, it came to our attention that the University plans to permanently lodge a hideous sculpture in front of Butler Library.” And it gets much, much better.
The students go on to call the Moore piece — a big bronze titled “Reclining Figure 1969–70” — a “ghoulish figure,” a “monstrosity,” an “ugly hunk of metal,” “a desecration of our home,” and an “arrogant middle finger to the world.” (The poor things have apparently never seen artworks that consist of literal middle fingers to the world.) They liken it to “a dying mantis or a poorly formed pterodactyl.” They slander it as “an idealization of a chewed wad of gum.” Who said art didn’t still have the power to shock — the art of a British modernist working in a family-friendly zone between figuration and abstraction, no less?
But perhaps that’s not fair. The Columbia students seem less shocked by the Moore than they are offended by it. And why are they offended by it? Because it’s ugly. “The sculpture is so repulsive that when thieves stole Moore’s original cast, valued at £3 million, they literally chopped it up and sold it for scraps,” they write — evidently unaware that people chop things up and sell them for money, not looks. They continue:
Whatever its artistic merits, placing the sculpture in front of Butler Library will put an eyesore on an otherwise crisp, geometric, and symmetrical landscape. Moore’s ghoulish figure clashes with the neoclassical aesthetic instantly recognizable to generations of Columbians.
And my favorite:
All of this is not to say that modern sculpture has no place at the University. It just doesn’t belong in the center of campus.
Yes, folks, four students who attend Columbia University in the year 2016 — who presumably also attended the school in 2014, the year it hosted the most talked-about performance art piece in recent memory — hate modern art because it doesn’t uphold a classically beautiful ideal. And to prove their point, that Moore’s brand of modernism could just never gel with the school’s neoclassical campus, they photoshopped a rendering of what the sculpture might look like installed in front of the Butler Library. It looks … like every other Henry Moore sculpture installed on a plot of grass in front of a building! Maybe slightly better! Surprise!!
Please, no one tell these folks about postmodernism. They might do something drastic.
Update, 10:30pm ET: According to the Spectator, over 1,000 people have signed a petition asking to halt the installation of the sculpture, although it’s unclear how that number has been verified, as the petition is a Google Form and does not immediately display names or numbers.