Friday, June 01, 2012

No looking in the corner for this one

(This column originally appeared August 4, 1989, in the Press-Republican, Plattsburgh, NY)

    When I was in college, one of the interesting things about our old campus was the strange little bits of sculpture and artwork tucked away in odd corners.
    In the Administration Building, there was a set of murals of the life and times of Christopher Columbus.
    One painting showed Columbus and these weeping Indians in a cell and was entitled "Bobadilla betrays Columbus."
    We didn't know who Bobadilla was, but he must have been a cad.
    Near the art building, there was a six-foot sculpture of a man, made of reinforcing rods.
    The rods approximated musculature, and the man's head was thrown back in a scream of inarticulate angst, while his hands tore open his stomach. Inside were gears and suchlike, with a little, tiny man in the very center .
    Oddest of all, though, was the mural in the Huddle. Wrapped around the end of the booths in the snack bar was a really ugly painting of grotesque football players hitting each other, while referees blew whistles and threw flags. As undergraduate artwork goes, this was really a wonder.
    I thought of all this awe-striking artwork the other day when I was over on the Plattsburgh State campus and saw the new giant head that is rising up between the library and the science building. I don't know much about sculpture, mind you. but I know what is big, and this is big.
    It isn't a record for macrocephalic sculpture, of course. Mount Rushmore is larger, but that is, strictly speaking, a statue of four giant heads, not four giant sculptures of heads.
    The heads of Easter Island are more separate, but still can hardly be classed as individual opera.  
    But the giant head of Ferdinand Marcos, overlooking a golf course in the Phillipines, is clearly the world-class giant head of all time.
    Still, for Plattsburgh, this is one big head, and that is important. Campus art these days has few restrictions, but it is supposed to be really, really big.
    Look at those two gingerbread men shaking hands: now. that's big! That's really big, really good campus art.
    Giant art is important in the high-pressure world of the modern undergraduate facility.
    When we were students, we didn't care about our futures and we weren't under the same pressures to get high grades.
    If we wanted to go wandering around campus, hunting up unusual things to look at and ponder, we could take an hour or two and go do it. If the dinky little lifesize heads and bodies we were offered were tucked away in a quiet grotto or down amid the crab apple trees somewhere, we had nothing better to do than go down and have a look anyway.
    Today, students need to be able to get at that art quickly. They are busy people and they need to just look across campus and there it is: A giant head. Two men shaking hands. Whatever.
    You look, and you see it. No time wasted, no one late to class.
    This is very American, you know, this efficient artwork. It started with the Statue of Liberty.
    We'd bring in all the wretched refuse yearning to be free, and, as their boats steamed into the harbor, we'd say, "Hey, there's Lady Liberty over there. We made her real big, so you wouldn't have to get off the boat and go have a close-up look. You can see her just fine from here. Now, go get your shots and find a job."
    I don't know what this really big head is going to actually look like when it is done. Right now, it looks like a giant-but-kind-of-flimsy jungle gym, but they wouldn't dare leave it like that unless they are going to really, really crack down on campus drinking.
    I haven't talked to the artist about all this.
    But my senior year, they decided to renovate the Huddle, and they covered over the grotesque mural of ugly football players that had been there for 15 years, and some enterprising campus reporter thought to call up the guy who painted it and ask him what he thought about having his artistic tribute to Notre Dame football destroyed.
    "I hated football,'' he replied. "I thought it was incredibly grotesque."
    Which doesn't have much to do with giant heads, except that it was nice to run into a campus artist who didn't have one.

(Note: This provoked an angry letter from the curator that may have provoked more laughter than the original column.)


Dann said...

Now I want to read that letter to the editor!

Mike said...

I wasn't sure it would be fair to post, but then I couldn't find it anyway. It may have just come to the newsroom and been passed around, rather than sent as a "letter to the editor."

He disagreed with my analysis, at any rate.