Is It Art, or Not?
We’re driving out to Wisconsin to visit my daughter. On the way we stopped in Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan.
The university is famous for many things — well, yes, a 108,000-capacity football stadium, the largest in the U. S. — but also site of a 1960 speech given by John F. Kennedy proposing the idea for the Peace Corps. Students from Michigan were largely responsible for getting the Peace Corps off the ground.
The highlight of our stay was a walk around the art museum, where several large sculptures are displayed on the grounds. But as we wandered through campus I began to think: Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the artworks and the more mundane, functional facilities like benches and lightposts. They all kind of look alike!
So what about you? Can you tell which of the following are photos of art, and which are pictures of the everyday things you might find on any college campus, or any city street? For example, is this a photo of a construction site, or a genuine piece of sculpture?
Okay, that’s an easy one. It’s a sculpture called Orion by Mark di Suvero, named after the famed hunter of Greek mythology. What about this next one.
It’s not officially art, although it is an artfully arranged line of bicycle racks. How about this one . . . does it say something about the fate of the world?
Well, whether it does or doesn’t, it’s not art. It’s just a rock. But the next one must be art, right?
Yes! It’s a cast bronze called Ternary Marker, by Beverly Pepper, who honed her vision of shape and form during her years working in a factory. What about this next one — a sculpture, or just a group of old tree trunks?
It’s another cast bronze called Angry Neptune, by Michele Oka Doner, a group meant to evoke ancient totems engaged in an abstract conversation. But if that’s art, what is this?
This is art, in a way — it’s architecture. But it’s not part of the exhibit, just a close-up of a building on campus. But this next one is obviously art, right, a monumental piece signifying the absurdity of mankind?
Nope. It’s actually a bench. But, no fooling, this next one is art . . .
It’s called Requiem by Erwin Binder and was commissioned by Bob Hope to recall an eternal flame meant to memorialize fallen heroes. And finally . . .
This one is called Daedalus, by Charles Ginnever, inspired by the Greek god who escaped from prison by making wings out of wax. He warned his son Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, but of course he did and so his wings melted and he fell to his death. The sculpture is meant to represent wings in flight. Can you see it?
I don’t mean to be disrespectful to art — it’s actually pretty impressive stuff. But hey, what’s wrong with having a little fun. You might also check out a previous piece I did called Is This Art? which features some high-minded art, as well as low-minded pipes and poles, from the art museum in Raleigh, North Carolina.