Ed Ruscha’s potential contribution to the Water Tank Project (via curbed.com)

For 12 weeks in the spring of 2013, the organizers of the Water Tank Project, a public art project set to raise awareness on water scarcity, plan to decorate 300 water tanks around New York City with art by artists such as Ed Ruscha, Jeff Koons, Catherine Opie, Lawrence Weiner, Marilyn Minter and Jay-Z. Even more shocking than Jay-Z being billed as a visual artist is the project’s new plea via Kickstarter to raise $1 million to fund the project, even though they have already raised significant funds from several foundations.

First announced in March and sponsored by Word Above the Street, a nonprofit focusing on environmental and water conservation,the Water Tank Project has already raised a significant amount of money with Whole Foods Market contributing $60,000 for the project.

Recently, the Water Tank Project started a Kickstarter fund for $1 million dollars with rewards such as a BBQ at artist Dustin Yellin‘s studio and a personal tour of one of these water tanks. As of today, the project has made roughly $37,000 for this celebrity artist-studded project. In addition to the major artists water tower pieces, the Water Tank Project is going to reserve a whopping 15 of the 300 water tanks for an open call for artists and community members.

Tony Oursler Water Tower (via ny.curbed.com)

While the Water Tank Project’s self-proclaimed goal with the Kickstarter fund is to “be the first public art show that would be funded by you, the people,” the plea for individual donations seems to raise questions when compared to the roster of art stars and Jay-Z. Don’t Jay-Z or Jeff Koons individually have enough money to spare to contribute to the project? Couldn’t they find funding through their collectors, galleries and other connections? Even without relying on the artists’ personal fame, the Water Tank Project seems connected with enough big names that they clearly have access to public art grants and foundations.

With these obvious paths to funding the project, the Kickstarter fund just seems like a huge waste of individual money.  If these artists and activists want to decorate New York City’s Water Towers, why do they have to rely on the public to fund it? It’s the 99% funding the 1% at the end of the day. Though the good thing about Kickstarter is that the democratic nature of the funding medium will eventually decide if the whole thing is worth it. My vote is no.

Finally, I just want to ask: who other than Jay-Z has enough access to rooftop decks and views to see the art-wrapped water tanks often enough for them to make an impact?

Emily Colucci is a recently graduated NYU interdisciplinary Master's student with a focus on art history and gender/sexuality studies. Her interests lie in graffiti, street art and New York-based art from...

30 replies on “Do Jay-Z and Jeff Koons Really Need $1 Million for Water Tank Art?”

  1. Great article. Yeah, I have to agree on being skeptical about Jay-Z as a visual artist. I actually know the amazing artists/art world workers who work for one of the galleries that supply him with artwork (apparently, and partially in his defense, he is a huge art supporter with fairly good taste). However those workers are true artists who have struggled in NYC for long after completing their MFA’s, and for that reason, in my eyes, are far more deserving of being granted the opportunity to create work for a project like this. I will never understand why being a celebrity in one medium immediately grants you the ability to dominate all– regardless of your skill-level, training, or perceivable dedication. And yes it saddens me that they would call on the 99% to fund it. Kind of ridiculous if you ask me.

    1. Why shouldn’t they call on the 99%? It’s FOR the 99%. The 1%’ers can look at blue chip art on their own walls so why would they pay to give it to the rest of us?

  2. They’re using Kickstarter because it’s hip, not because they need money. The proper response is to point, jeer, and redirect one‘s attention.

  3. Thanks for the good article. This is an absurd idea, quite offensive to those who work hard for every dollar yet manage to care about a serious problem like water scarcity. As you mention, Kickstarter is of democratic nature (as far as we know); the result will offer us an insight as to where we are as a society.

  4. 1) One could not GET a project like this moving by ASKING blue chip artists to donate personal funds AND art. That’s simply not even an option. What’s more, monied artists don’t owe it to the art project owners or the city to gift them — it would be swell if they did, but it’s strange to think they owe it to anyone.

    2) No single person is getting a million dollars: there are sooooo many things that need paying for with a project like this: from meeting the safety regulations of each site, to staffing, to construction and installation, to the opening party and the PR… these things cost a lot of money and this one is very large and involves zoning and regulations and massive construction costs.

    3) What in hell can be wrong with requesting funding for an art project? No one’s getting taxed or billed against their will. Look at it this way if you don’t like the project: Kickstarter is just a form of pan-handling: it’s not taking from anyone who isn’t willing to give.

    4) I like it. I like the water awareness. I like how fun it will look. I like the publicity it will bring to our city. I like the artist roster. I like the charm of it. And I like the Kickstarter page. I like it that the public can, essentially, have a PC blue-chip art collection in the sky.

    5) My lord: can’t we have a little fun?

    1. I don’t really think it does much for water awareness IMHO and it feels a little like those painted cows or other animals that riddles cities for years. It is common for blue chip artists to have their foundations or galleries (or collectors) donate to projects like this and in those circles $1 million isn’t all that much.

      1. Hrag, it may be “common” for x,y, or z to “donate” but that doesn’t mean they OUGHT to or that it should be expected. It’s NOT JK’s art project. It is so very very strange to demand that whenever a blue chip artist (or performer) is involved in a project, that THEY should bankroll it. Since when did we start demanding things like that?

        And since when does a person working hard on a dream project get slammed because they’ve booked big names? That’s so very very odd.

          1. Dude, I have no money. I don’t donate to anything these days. But I”m a booster. I love the idea.

    2. You’re right that funding via Kickstarter won’t take from anyone who isn’t willing to give, but millionaires showing up on Kickstarter is IMHO in bad taste. They don’t need to ask the blue-chip artists to give money, but come on, Jeff Koons? There are so many rich people who are willing to bankroll anything Jeff Koons does. And yeah, the project sounds fun, public art is always good, yay, but I highly doubt it will do anything to raise awareness about water scarcity. “Look, neat, that water tower is painted.” “Cool, by who?” “Um I think Jay-Z.” “Oh, that’s weird.” End of passerby discussion.

      1. The people working on the project are not millionaires.
        There are NOT “so many rich people willing to bankroll anything Jeff Koons does.”
        Art can only do what art can do: it can raise awareness or fail to: the attempt is noble and good-looking. Why assign cyicism to such a sweet project?

        1. I get frustrated/annoyed when people create these kind of vague, “we are raising awareness!” projects without *actually* doing to much to really raise awareness. Yes, of course, an attempt is theoretically noble, and the result will either succeed or fail. But the quality of that attempt is completely worth critiquing, especially if that’s the stated aim of a project.

          1. Actually, the project is ambitous with plans to roll out education programs and a tour, an app for viewers and a symposium. Not so vague.

            The thing is, it’s ART: not Doctors w/out Borders. Art changes nothing: but it can give a lil’ old push.

            Plus: it will look cool. Plus it’s fun.

            What’s all the hate about? A couple of monied names on the roster? Honestly?

          2. Actually, the project is ambitious with plans to roll out education programs and a tour, an app for viewers and a symposium. Not so vague.

            The thing is, it’s ART: not Doctors w/out Borders. Art changes nothing: but it can give a lil’ old push.

            Plus: it will look cool. Plus it’s fun.

            What’s all the hate about? A couple of monied names on the roster? Honestly?

          3. They are certainly aiming to raise awareness. Public School art competition/ public school water curriculum.

  5. Even though Kickstarter is great for a lot of people, I think it also helps to normalize the idea that the way you spend your money is a type of voting or democratic participation. That’s not good.

    1. I disagree: I think that often we vote with our dollars and should do so. That is especially true when it comes to what art we buy. What products we buy. What movies we see. What things we collect.

        1. Tch: how tedious. Ayn Rand, really???
          I’m actually on about democratizing art by bringing it out of the elitist white cube into the light of day where we judge stuff by embracing it or rejecting. We do that SOMETIMES by choosing what we want to purchase (or own) and what we want to dispense with. It’s pretty simple.

          If you vote by giving dollars, it may be that you don’t have as much to give in other categories: like volunteering, or producing PR, or just…

          Here are other ways to “vote” for a worthy art project:
          1) Volunteer (The Water Tank Project apparently seeks volunteers)
          2) Submit art (The Water Tank Project will be placing art from emerging artists)
          3) Be a booster (like penniless lil’ ol’ me!)
          4) Attend
          5) Review

          1. Voting and spending money are ways of exerting influence but they are different things (just like voting and other forms of political activity are different). IMO Kickstarter reproduces on a micro-level the conflation of voting/democratic participation and spending money started in the Reagan era and repeated again and again by people/groups like the Koch brothers, Citizens United, etc. (apparently with pretty much total success if even progressives are willing to accepting that voting and spending money are an exact 1:1 symmetry). If you accept that voting and spending money are the same then it seems like you have to also accept that whoever spends the most money is the most entitled to the outcome they ‘voted’ for.

          2. Its has nothing to do with that: voting with your dollars is, as I’ve repeatedly pointed out, only ONE way to vote for products. Artworks are like any other product and as such are evaluated, in part, by people’s desire to see, visit and own them. Spending manifests these desires, in part.

  6. I’m sort of baffled. I’m with Cat Weaver. I don’t see the problem here. No one forces anyone to use kickstarter. If you want to participate, do. If you don’t, don’t. If you have a lot of money and want to use kickstarter, to give a little or a lot, cool. Come fund some other kickstarter projects while you’re at it.

    As I understand this project, it isn’t Jeff Koons deciding he wants to do water towers and asking for money via kickstarter. This is more likely the Water Tank Project asking Jeff Koons and other artists if they will participate and them saying ok. And now Water Tank Project asking some other folks to participate too. They’re thinking big and making it work. Good for them.

  7. I both see what a great blank canvas a water tower can be and cringe at the idea of practically every one in the city being “beautified”, they’re already gorgeous.

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