Sun, Jun 10, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Buying into the myth of ‘masters’

By Lu Ching-fu 呂清夫

Robert Indiana, the artist who made the LOVE sculpture outside Taipei 101, passed away on May 19.

When the project was under review 12 years ago, I had strong opinions about it — had I had the power to vote, I would have voted against it. Unfortunately, I was a member of a higher-level committee in the three-level, three-instance review system, so my job was only to make sure that the procedure was legal.

I was against it because it was too expensive — NT$30 million (US$1.01 million) — and too old-fashioned — it would have been popular 50 years ago.

For someone with too much money, buying it might be alright — it would mean that we would have the same thing that other countries do. The thing is that other countries purchased their works when Indiana was a hot ticket, making the work more topical.

Today, it can be seen in so many cities around the world that people have become numb to it. Probably the only exception is Paris — because you cannot find this work outdoors in Paris. Parisians just do not believe in this kind of thing.

US artist Jeff Koons not long ago proposed to gift his sculpture Bouquet of Tulips to Paris. Although Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has agreed to accept it, some insightful people are opposed to the plan.

The original purpose of gifting the work was as a memorial for the victims of the 2015 terrorist attack in Paris, but the site proposed by Koons is not close to the place of the attack. Instead, it is near the Palais de Tokyo, a tourist attraction.

There are also fears that this four-floor-tall piece might block the view of other buildings — and the Eiffel Tower is just across the river. The mayor therefore proposed two alternative locations, but the artist rejected them. This makes people suspicious of Koons’ motives, thinking that perhaps he just wants to use Paris to his own advantage.

The proposed plan is that the artist will only provide the design blueprint and the subsequent expenditure of 3.5 million euros (US$4.124 million) is to be paid by the city’s residents.

Human life is short, but the life of art is long: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is very old, but it is still a masterpiece.

However, the LOVE sculpture is a different case. Indiana originally designed it for New York’s Museum of Modern Art as a Christmas card in 1964 and then used the image to design stamps.

It became a huge success because it was during the Vietnam War, when people were particularly receptive to love and peace. The artist then further developed it into a sculpture, which was just as successful, although the artist changed colors and letters — even Spanish and Hebrew versions were available.

This attracted a lot of criticism, with critics saying that Indiana was shameless and his work was excessively copied and transformed, with the result that the artist became a recluse.

The piece is design-oriented, and you feel neither the quality and texture of modern art nor the rebellious spirit of contemporary art. An advertising company might be able to make the same thing and at a lower cost.

However, people often believe in masters — they can be late bloomers, but others turn sour in their older age. Picasso, for example, was described as a paper tiger in his later years, because his works then were mostly variations of famous paintings from art history and were no longer original.

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