Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Controversial Bear


Some time ago, Knoxville sponsored a public art program where local artists painted bear statues that were displayed around town, then auctioned off for charity. All the bears were removed just recently. But this little bear on Gay Street was the reason the city government was asked to create a public art committee to evaluate what they put in city parks and on public  sidewalks.  If you didn't catch it from the first photo, here's a close-up of what caused the controversy:

Some folks felt this was free speech through art and applauded the effort. Others thought the art jumped the boundaries of sensitivity and good taste and objected to having this in public without being vetted beforehand. I tend to side more with the broadest definitions of free speech, and I was ok with this bear being displayed in public, but I also hope this bear will start a discussion of what are the community standards for city-sponsored art in Knoxville, and who exactly decides what they are. What do you think about this bear? Do you have art evaluation committees in your town?

15 comments:

USelaine said...

Interesting situation. Willits has an Arts Commission, but I think they oversee the Willits Center for the Arts as their main responsibility - a gallery and meeting space. I don't know if anything like this has come up.

I actually like the rendering style of this, with the colors and fine detail and surrealist references.

Ms. Hays said...

I like it too and I don't know anyone who would have a problem with it being displayed in public. It's part of our history now, as much as we would rather it not be.

Abraham Lincoln said...

We don't have any art or a committee and I am thankful that we don't have to make decisions like this one. Free Speech is one thing but it is often distorted for other reasons.

Small City Scenes said...

I have no problem with the art bear 0r the bearer of art. I think sometimes people like to pretend that nothing happened even though they know. the old head in the sand--if I don't see it etc.
I think it is very tastefully done. MB

Gordon said...

I think that expression through art is as valid as other forms of speech; I'm OK with this bear.

Chris said...

I didn't know Knoxville had the bears. We had catfish one year, and a few years later, we had guitars. I show one of the catfish on my blog today.

Re: your question. . . . Free speech. . . .i always say we may not all agree with others' opinions, but they have has much right to voice it as we all do.

• Eliane • said...

I don't see anything distasteful about it. But I must admit that I still can't deal very well with depictions of people falling from the sky. Even if it is in a poetic way, it makes me very uncomfortable and it instantly brings me back those memories.

Jim said...

No art commission in Terrell. Nothing against the bear, it looks like it is very well done. If I saw it, I would probably remember back to that day and the grief. I guess thats what the artist was trying to do?

Benjamin Madison said...

another question might be what is going on with art on animals? Victoria does the same thing with Orcas and I think has done it with bears in the past. Why has this become an apparently widespread form of public art?

babooshka said...

I applaud and support free speech, especially in the artworld. My partner is a political cartoonist and
he has to tread a fine line between free speech and observation to indictment of over stepping the boundaries. As for community art again I am all for it, so long as the community has a say, not just a commitee. It tends to be more community lead here, so this was interesting for me to read about this kind of commitee.

Chuck Pefley said...

This, to me, is a wonderful tribute to an awful event. If the nay-sayers had their way there would be no statues of our country heros on library steps or in city parks ... like, for instance, General Custer who was responsible for the annihilation of a great many human beings in the name of "our country" and progress.

Knoxville Girl said...

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. Personally, I don't undrerstand why some people are offended by this particular work of art. But as Chuck is,I believe, gently pointing out, it often depends on which side of the historical event you're on.

Ming the Merciless said...

Wow, that is a controversial piece of art. I think we are still a little bit sensitive and raw about the images of the World Trade Center.

Palm Axis said...

I know that the first city to present this animal theme was Chicago. Dubai has camels, Los Angeles, angels. Seems that they make a brief appearance then are sold to private interests. Whose profiting? As far as I'm concerned, nothing pulls the pluck and chutzpah out of art faster then a committee whose main concern is fear that the work somehow will offend someone. Nothing daring or relevant comes out of that atmosphere. Think about the Vietnam wall. Committees were formed just to stop it (think gazilllionare Ross Perot). It broke ground and now influences every monument since it's appearance.

james thomas said...

I want to know where the "bee bear" is now or at least find a picture of it; it had originally hung from the corner of Hodges Library when I was a freshman in 2006-7.