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Letter to the editor: That artwork accident was at least public

Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 12:01 am

There is a point missing in a lengthy article in the other paper listing the familiar apologias for Freimann Square’s nonobjective sculpture, “Helmholtz.” It is that good art can be bad public policy.

Roger Starr, a member of the New York Times editorial board, devotes a chapter of his New York history to the thesis that the elite there got so caught up in the “all is relative” spirit of nonobjective art that they lost judgment, tempting financial ruin: “It is not overreaching to suggest that when the institutional leaders of a city make modern painting and sculpture their most prized art form, and when they devote as much time, intelligence and, not least, money to its pursuit as the New York leaders of the postwar world did, they demonstrate a set of values that endangers those needed to keep an urban polity on a firm, reasonable and safe course.”

Starr, formerly New York’s housing commissioner, contended that modern art is contra productive to the degree it influences government decision-making.

“Sympathetic critics of nonobjective art ascribe meaning in portentous statements that the intra-canvas artifacts allegedly express,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, real life cannot survive on portentous statements; it requires the knowledge that iron is hard, and exactly how hard, and how much harder it is than flesh. It is the value of precisely such discrimination the canons of nonobjective art condemn.”

As if to prove that point, “Helmholtz” (or at least its welds) buckled in a low-speed crash in the wee hours of the morning — no match, at least, for a more reality-based work of art, the 2013 GMC Sierra truck, crafted, incidentally, at the plant just inside the county line. It might have been a statement. It might have been an accident. It certainly was poetry.

Craig Ladwig