Monday, 17 September 2012

Seven reasons why the Snowy-Farr public sculpture fails

Half-baked artfail

Public sculpture does not have to be solemn.  Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen plopped a giant ice cream cone onto a shopping mall:
Neumarkt, Cologne.  From here.
 Jeff Koons grew a monumental puppy out of flowers and leaves:

Outside the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (Spain)
Noebse (Wikimedia), reproduced via 'Freedom of Panorama'
Nor do monuments have to be figurative.  They can be abstract, like Constantin Brancusi's Endless Column.

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Now Cambridge has its own crazy-kooky public sculpture:

Geofones (own work), Geofones/ CC-BY-SA-3.0
This was unveiled on 7 August.  It commemorates Walter 'Snowy' Farr.  He died in 2007 and was an eccentric man who used to busk in the city centre and raise money for guide dogs for the blind.

Yes, it's nice to have sculptures in the centre of town.  Cambridge is woefully under-statued.  So why is this an ARTFAIL?

Seven reasons why this fails!

1.  Abstract or figurative?  Decide!

2.  Postmodern ironic play with history or modernist disregard for place, context and architecture?  Or just willful disregard for whatever is part of the surroundings?

Cambridge sculpture marketplace

3.  Playground feature, surrealist portrait, or a 3-D ad for Haribo allsorts??

4  Can we interact with it?  Yes, we can, if we're a punt tout.

5.  Primary colours, black-and-white, metallic bronze, or red/orange?  Decide!

6.  A gravity-defying conglomerate of blobs?  An experiment in space versus solids?  A play of abstract shapes versus realistic mice?  Up on a pedestal or down at street level?  Decide!

7.  Internationally-renowned or locally relevant? Cambridge's mayor over-hyped this when she claimed it was a "world class piece of art" by "an internationally-renowned artist".  

World class?  Internationally-renowned?  You mean like Anish Kapoor or Rachel Whiteread (or even Damien Hirst)?  Um, no.  It's not.  It doesn't need to be.  But why justify it as if it were?  Either it's good or it's not.  Being 'internationally-renowned' doesn't automatically make it fabulous.

Some people like this kind of sculpture, some people hate it, but I prefer Snowy Farr's dignified gravestone,  carved by letter carver Pippa Westoby.

How about you?  Do you find it interesting?

What and where
Snowy Farr, by Gary Webb, unveiled 7 August 2012, aluminium and bronze, outside the Guildhall, corner of Market Hill and Petty Cury, central Cambridge, England

Read more:
Read my follow-up post:  Snowy-Farr statue vandalised!


  1. What a great post. I like the way you open it up through questions. Yes, this is a monumental artfail.

    1. Thank you, La Crise. Or am I pronouncing that incorrectly? There may well be a follow-up post this one. Artfail part 2! Although some people like it...

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