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Anger mismanagement

The dog walkers were among the first to express outrage.

Lee Freeman, a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art and an undergraduate Christo, had got permission from various agencies to temporarily block the park in Mount Vernon Square with gold-painted chain-link fence. It was a conceptual piece intended to stimulate thought about public spaces.

Brother, did it.

An article on the artist by The Sun’s Abigail Tucker has one of the longest tails of comments from readers, and it is the comments, not the work of art, that provoke some thoughts about public discourse. The public is in a snit.

Some of the complaints were reasonable enough. Residents of Mount Vernon were irritated at being deprived, even temporarily of the use of the open space. But then the storm hit. Some of the elements:

We weren’t informed

The fencing project went through channels for approval, and while there were no public hearings, there is some dispute about how widely residents were informed. (My own experience in the newsroom is that people don’t pay much attention to the memos.)

That damn kid

Mr. Freeman comes in for considerable abuse in the reader comments: The little twerp, this out-of-town elitist, this snotty college kid, who does he think he is? People scream obscenities at him when he’s in the square. My generation, subjected to hostility toward the young 40 years ago, has matured into ... expressing hostility toward the young. That, of course, oversimplifies; there’s also class resentment about supposedly privileged college students to factor in.

That other stuff

Insofar as the discussion is about aesthetics, and not much of it is, it regularly broadens into ranting about unrelated works, most particularly the Male/Female statue in front of Penn Station.*

The retaliation

There have been denunciations of the Maryland Institute for harboring and encouraging the artist, and I’ve seen at least one vow to withhold contributions from the Walters Art Museum for its encouragement of the project.

There’s a lot of rage out there, and it’s not particularly discriminating in its choice of objects, and not particularly proportionate. I don’t much care for conceptual art, including Christo’s, and, with all respect to Mr. Freeman’s intentions, I find his project puerile. But I’m neither qualified to be nor interested in being a censor of public art. I, too, like to walk in Mount Vernon Square (though I generally have to keep my head down to watch out for all the dog excrement on the sidewalk). But I can tolerate a temporary inconvenience without risking an apoplexy.

It’s as if the nastiness that has marked political discussion for the past generation has spilled over into other areas. And the Internet, including newspapers like The Sun that permit unmoderated or lightly supervised comments by the public, fosters and facilitates expression of such nastiness. I leave it to the psychologists to determine whether giving voice to rage and resentment vents them or stimulates them, but I suspect the latter.

But if you, dear reader, find yourself consumed by anger, I give a practical suggestion for you: Get a ticket to a ball game. The great thing about sports competitions is that they don’t matter. The fate of the Republic is not at stake. One’s standard of living and place in the social order are not at risk. Somebody wins, somebody loses, nobody gets shot, and it all happens again the next day. Moreover — this is the important part — a ball game establishes an environment in which it is both socially acceptable and harmless for people to scream their lungs out, express contempt, utter threats and generally act abusively.

Take in a game. Then go home and see whether you can be civil.

 

*Actually, though I am not particularly fond of aluminum as an artistic medium, I’ve grown rather to like Male/Female (pictured below), and so has my wife. The glow from it is cheerful when I drive up Charles Street after dark. This appears to be a minority view, given the persistent clamor against the statue since its erection. So, in an exception of my practice of authorizing nearly every comment on this blog, I will carve out a small area of protected expression. If you like Male/Female, you can say so in a comment to this post, and I will suppress any comment attacking you.

 

                                    MALE.FEMALE.jpg

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 11:20 AM | | Comments (13)
        

Comments

Wow, I thought I was the only person in Baltimore who secretly kind of liked Male/Female. Although, like John, I like it best seen at night (in my case usually while driving on the Jones Falls Expressway). It's not nearly as impressive when seen in broad daylight from right in front of the train station.

I love Male/Female. It's glowing heart reminds me of ET. It's not great art, but it sure is powerful art. Anything that huge - good or bad - is powerful.

Like the Pyramid at the Loevre, I think Male/Female will one day just be another part of the landscape.

Okay, I'm going to go on record: I do like Male/Female. I like the unexpectedness of it in the old station, I like the way it intrudes on my thoughts when I pass it, and I like that it gets people talking about art.

Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!

I actually kind of like Male/Female. Putting a fence around a park just when we're finally getting some decent weather? Not so much.

I dislike Male/Female less than I did at first. I wouldn't criticize, shoot or fence out someone who disagrees.

I am surprised to see you write favorably about sports, John, but your reason makes sense.

Hi

About art: Art is in the eye of the beholder, right? Having someone shove it down your throat is aiming at the wrong organ.

About rage and civility: I make a real attempt to keep my words meaty, but tender and palatable, because of the frequency with which I am required to eat them.

Male/Female or whatever might be okay -- in a different setting such as Leakin Park where it could be a beacon for the body-dumpers or next to the recycling plant on Russell Street where all the metal junk goes.
But not in front of the railroad station.

As for the Mount Vernon fence, it takes a mighty strong sense of imagination to consider it as art of any kind.

I recall an exhibit of bricks laid in patterns with straw strewn on top on the floor of a famous London art gallery. Apparently it was considered worth a lot of money.

IMO it was a waste of good bricks.

It seems that anyone can display any preposterous creations these, call it art and summon forth legions of "believers" to defend it.

A simple test seems appropriate: Would you pay good money for it; would you hang it on your wall or display it in your house?

I've always rather liked Male/Female. Some have defined "art" as anything that evokes a reaction in the viewer; seems to me that this piece has been remarkably successful in that regard.

I agree with boberl that context is often important (which could easily unravel the "would you display it at home?" argument) and, as others have noted, this is a piece whose best context appears to be at night as one drives along a nearby road and it just sort of emerges.

I don't hate Male/Female, but I like this artist's "Hammering Man" in Seattle better.

For anyone left cold by Christo, I suggest watching the beautiful "The Gates" special (still available on HBO On Demand, I believe). The project here was the antithesis of "The Gates," in that it excluded people rather than drawing them into a public space.

I believe Male/Female could be nice in the right location, but is definitely too much of a clash in front of the beautiful Penn Station building, but Ive gotten so used to it that the only time it really bugs me is when friends visit from out of town and I am showing them the "sights".

As for Boberl's comment, I am almost offended by the idea that art needs to be purchasable, or a commodity in order for it to be art, or in order for it to be good. I dont think that consumability is the measure of excellence, otherwise McDonalds would be considered excellent food.

Male/Female is great in its setting. The jarring juxtoposition of the classic Beaux-Art rail station and the brushed aluminum structure is what makes it work. Male/Female elsewhere might not be as interesting.

I'll add my name to the list of those who like Male/Female. It may not be the most beautiful thing in the world, but I enjoy it nonetheless. It also occupies a special place in my nostalgic heart as my first memory of Baltimore. And I'll agree that it's especially pleasing at night; I like looking for its glow as I walk down Mt. Royal Ave. in the evenings.

Unable to take rejection without terrible angst, I will refrain from comment on the sculpture (?) or the commentators who profess to like it, probably out of a desire to be liked by the host and nothing more.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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