It will be very interesting to see how Logan’s proposed Public Arts Master Plan works out. It sounds pretty progressive, but here’s a prediction: As soon as the city acquires or displays a piece of art that is at all abstract or experimental, the paint will hit the fan.
Utah State University has been held up as a good model to follow for displaying public art, but I wonder if what plays on campus might not play so well in town.
There are quite a few pieces of sculpture at USU, a large number of which are what you might call abstract or expressionistic. As a one-time aspiring artist, I love that stuff and think those prominently displayed artworks do a lot to enliven the learning environment at USU, but over the years I’ve heard some disparaging remarks about the sculptures from townsfolk.
“Since when are french fries art?”
“Looks like a blob to me?”
“Heck, I could do something better than that with the scrap wood in my garage.”
On a college campus, a few stray critics are unlikely to derail artistic expression or celebration of the arts, but out in the “real world” of disgruntled taxpayers, pragmatists of every stripe and people who have never cared to open an art book, there is little tolerance for sculptures, paintings and murals that don’t portray subjects and people realistically.
Or maybe I should amend that to say there is little tolerance for anything but romanticized portrayals of real subjects and people — the rugged cowboy, the loyal soldier, the upright pioneer couple looking to the horizon with wind in their hair, the barefoot and carefree child on a swing, Casey at the bat.
Nothing against those beloved images, but art can be so much more.
Logan got a little taste of modern art phobia a couple of years ago when the property owner renovating the old phone company building at 22 E. Center Street proposed placing a series of large stick-on murals on the side of the building facing Main Street.
Alarm bells immediately went off. In a meeting of the Logan Planning Commission, concerns were raised by several individuals, including an area business owner quoted as saying, “While we are in favor of the beautification of downtown, many wall murals can be akin to graffiti. In the historic district, it is imperative to keep the look and feel of Logan downtown preserved.”
Not until planning commissioners were assured the murals would not be edgy in any way but instead display a popular local artist’s portrayals of pioneer family life was the site plan approved.
But Google the word “mural” sometime and you’ll find yourself in a colorful world of art deco, surrealism, pop art, op art, folk art and everything in between — a realm of free expression far outside the confines of realism and romanticism. Modern murals can be exquisitely designed, compelling, fun, fabulous, heart-warming, awe-inspiring, you name it.
And yes, you might see murals that resemble graffiti, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some phenomenal artists have used a spray can in the dead of night.
But that’s just my opinion. The success of Logan’s Public Arts Master Plan will likely require bridging the tastes and sensibilities of the entire community, which could prove to be quite a balancing act. You just hope it doesn’t result in milquetoast at every turn.
I moved here 25 years ago from Loveland, Colorado, a town that has made a massive commitment to public art and experienced a few controversies along the way. Loveland is the home of several metal foundries and has attracted an entire community of bronze sculptors.
In addition to hosting an international sculpture show each year, the town contains a sculpture garden and large bronze works on many street corners and other public spaces. Few of Loveland’s public sculptures depart from representational art, but there are some nudes on display that have generated community opposition.
Just a hunch, but I’m not seeing any nude sculptures in Logan’s future.
One thing that has kept public outcry at bay in Loveland is that virtually all of the sculptures there have been gifted to the city by the artists, who use the donations to give their artworks exposure and get their names known. No taxpayer money is involved.
An interesting concept put forth in the Logan master plan discussions is combining art and science, perhaps in an interactive way, to enhance public engagement. This could be the ticket for Logan. Get kids and families involved in fun, informative ways.
Though not science-related, an amusing example of community interplay with art came to mind as I sat down to write this column. A couple of years ago, some USU students had the clever idea of crafting a snow hamburger next to the aforementioned “french fries” sculpture on campus, and The Herald Journal got a photo of a passerby reaching out to touch the dyed snow sculpture. That’s community engagement on several levels.
I love art. I love Logan. I hope the two can get together in new and delightful ways like this with the help of the Public Arts Master Plan.