The art of politics
August 19, 2011
It seems that the city of Aspen has been given a golden opportunity to shoot itself in the foot, and it’s going to be fun to see if its aim remains straight and true.
Local troublemaker/artist Lee Mulcahy, along with six other artists, was invited to create a bicycle-themed piece of art to gussie up the town in honor of some upcoming big-deal bike event, and for some reason city bureaucrats were shocked and surprised when the art he delivered was more political than bicycle.
The sculpture depicts a large photo of Jim and Paula Crown in what the artist intends to be an unflattering light. It has a bicycle jammed through the middle of it to qualify as bike-themed art.
First: Anyone who wants to hang a huge picture of me in the middle of town looking that good in formal wear is welcome to go ahead, with or without bicycle. However, hands began to wring, and predictably Community Relations Director Mitzi Rapkin stated, “This is going to be a PR nightmare.”
Listen, Mitzi, 70 degrees and not a flake of snow on Aspen Mountain during Christmas week is a PR nightmare.
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Second: I’ve been around since the early ’70s and until now didn’t have the slightest idea what Jim and Paula Crown looked like. The notion that the folks who come here for the mountains, the sun, and the music are going to identify the people who own the company that owns the company town is silly and vainglorious. The possibility that they would be acquainted with the politics behind Mulcahy’s artistic statement is even more remote. If anyone who works at City Hall is really losing sleep over this, I suggest that they roll over and get some shuteye.
While aesthetically Mulcahy’s piece is in keeping with much of what the Aspen Art Museum has been showing under its new management, mingling art and politics is risky business, and locally, the great Tom Benton is one of few to pull it off with grace. As soon as art becomes political it severely limits the possibilities for interpretation; when you throw in personal vendetta, the potential audience becomes much smaller than the one most artists dream of. Hence, I don’t think that either Mulcahy or the Crowns have to worry about this work being scooped up by the Whitney Museum for its next biennial.
Whether you agree with Mulcahy’s lonely crusade or not, this piece of art is exactly in the spirit of what brought many of us here to begin with. I was on the committee that bought one of the first pieces of public art for the then brand-new mall. It was a huge stone sculpture of a fanny. Every Halloween people would glue pubic hair to the appropriate areas.
In 1970 some scoundrel did his best to blow up the windmill in Holland Hills. When interviewed by Sports Illustrated, then City Councilman Ned Vare said, “I think it’s a much bigger crime to build that stuff than blow it up. A lot of people hope that it will be blown up again.”
It would be too much to hope for some elected official to come out and defend Mulcahy’s artistic statement.