Residents in a Vancouver town have filed a petition to not allow a sculpture to be installed on the South False Creek Seawall in Vancouver. The sculpture is part of the annual Vancouver International Sculpture Biennale and was created by Chinese artist Chen Wenling. He is a world-renowned neorealist whose often grotesque but otherwise very visually arresting works have been exhibited all and one is even installed in Vancouver. ‘Proud Youth’ has become somewhat of a popular landmark near where the proposed ‘Boy Holding a Shark’ is to be installed. Actually, both pieces remind me of another installation, ‘A-maze-ing Laughter’ which I initially thought was a work of the same artist. ‘A-maze-ing Laughter,’ prior to being installed was also subjected to protests, but later became a popular feature in Vancouver’s artistic landscape.
So why do people oppose ‘Boy Holding a Shark?’ Apparently, the grotesque look of the sculpture, which is a call to environmental protection, would harm the natural beauty of the local scenery. More importantly, it could potentially hurt the value of the property around the areas. Personally, I don’t find the look of the sculpture particularly offensive. Looking at art is subjective and this is entirely my speculation, but I believe people who oppose the installation are not the gallery-viewing crowd to begin with. Also, a sculpture belongs in the natural Canadian landscape as much as rows of condos and boats. The opposition due to the look of the piece or how it harms the beauty of the environment just rings a little hollow to me. As for the argument that it would hurt property values, as a millennial living in Seoul who has given up owning a home and can’t even dream of being able to afford a waterfront property in Vancouver, I couldn’t care less about that concern. It seems like rich, white people problems.
Some argue that Canadians should be spending more tax dollars promoting and uplifting Canadian artists. However, the Biennale is a non-profit organization and does not involve the government at all. Canadian taxpayers are not on the hook for the piece. If anything, I tend to be critical of how the Canadian government be it, federal or provincial, chooses public art. I find a lot of public art, especially in my hometown Winnipeg, very uninspired. Just look up ‘Agassiz Ice.’ I’ve written about if before, but it’s a sculpture of glaciers. Glaciers! In a town that has tons of snow and ice for half the year and even has ice and snow sculpture events annually. Described as “monumental,” there is nothing monumental about the three pieces of aluminum. One of the three glaciers is literally three feet tall.
Granted, the tendency for governments and other organizations to choose uninspired corporate art to dot the landscape is not unique to Canada. Seoul has a law which mandates the installation of sculptures to be installed near large buildings. Unfortunately, the choice of works and the fear of offending people and hurting property value has resulted in Seoul being filled with what some has described as “stupid statues.” I’m not saying many of the works in Canada or Seoul are awful, many are in fact brilliant and I applaud them being in the public space, but more often than not, they are meaningless metal features that people simply ignore.
So yeah, God bless organizations like the Biennale for being more adventurous in their selection. Hopefully the city goes ahead with erecting that statue.