September 15, 2005

"Most public sculpture, especially in the Trafalgar Square and Whitehall areas is triumphant male statuary."

For balance: "Alison Lapper Pregnant." The 13-ton marble statue was unveiled today. Comments? Is the artist striking a blow for the rights of women and the disabled or is he exploiting women and the disabled for his own advantage? Does the intent to strike a blow for the rights of women and the disabled make it better art, worse art, or exactly the same level of art it would be if it were offered up purely for its form? And in a purely formal sense, is it good art?

MORE: I just heard a BBC News report on the sculpture, which included Robert Simon, editor of the British Art Journal, disparaging what he called "the thing":
I think it is horrible. Not because of the subject matter I hasten to add. [I have a] lot of time for Alison Lapper. I think she is very brave, very wonderful but it is just a rather repellent artefact - very shiny, slimy surface, machine-made, much too big...

He also noted — and I agree — that the head is especially badly done.

YET MORE: Who Alison Lapper is.

42 comments:

PatCA said...

Oh, bloody hell, another half-baked cultural attack on the "male." Are we now to count the number of male versus female statues in order to ensure parity??

I guess he skipped his Art History 101 class that talked about the female form from ancient Greece onwards.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winged_Victory_of_Samothrace

Ignorance is bliss. Ignorance is publicity.

Ginna said...

I don't think the artist is doing either of those things. Also, I don't agree that Quinn's stated goals (bringing "femininity" to the square, and offering up a "new model of female heroism") signal an "intent to strike a blow for the rights of women and the disabled". Nowhere in Quinn's blurb or comments in the accompanying article does he make such a claim.

It seems more likely that he was personally inspired by Lapper, and definitely wanted to provoke thought and reaction regarding viwers' images of disabled people. The pregnant female is a powerful iconic image as well.

I would question the inclusion of such a piece in the general theme of Trafalgar Square, (war heroes), but the next piece "Hotel for the Birds" sounds even less relevant.

The idea of rotating sculptures every 18 months is an interesting one, and will probably serve the goal of getting people to view the sculpture in the Square as art, and also talk about it.

Art of course is subjective. But it's both beautiful and thought-provoking, which makes it art in my book.

Jeff said...

"In the past, heroes such as Nelson conquered the outside world."

Uh, Nelson died defending Britain from the "conquerer" Napolean's navy.

More to the point, is it a good idea for a woman with a chromosomal disorder to reproduce? Did she receive genetic counseling or testing? Will her child be healthy? How will she care for a newborn, given that she was born without hands? Should the decision to go through with it be celebrated?

Freeman Hunt said...

I don't have a problem with the piece, but I do think it is boring. Just a woman sitting on the ground. Maybe it's just my computer monitor, but I can't make out any implied emotion in the piece. Give me something: triumphant, sad, thoughtful, joyful, whatever, but not just plain old sitting.

In fact, now that I think about, it does seem kind of exploitative since she is just sitting there. As if the fact that she's disabled and pregnant are the only things that define her. I'm sure there's more to Alison Lapper than just that. His piece should capture more of her.

If they want more female pieces, they should include these (two of my favorites):

http://www.cordair.com/Axton/world.aspx
http://www.cordair.com/Anjou/gratitude.aspx

Jonathan said...

Apples and oranges. I don't think one can seriously compare the pregnant-handicapped-lady sculpture -- which, with all respect to its subject, is symbolically insubstantial -- with something like Nelson's Column. Unless, that is, the whole point is to denigrate Nelson and the traditional English virtues he represents, in which case these feminist sculpture enthusiasts are a bunch of ignorant fools. There's a reason why Nelson will be remembered by English society hundreds of years after the pregnant lady is forgotten, and it's not because the society doesn't respect women.

Somebody should ask Margaret Thatcher what she thinks. I suspect she would side with Nelson on this one. I suspect also that the feminist sculpture poseurs aren't planning on lobbying for a statue of her.

Harkonnendog said...

The piece exists outside the intention of the artist, so what the artist meant to do means nothing.

Any scrub who walks by that piece of crap (nice job of putting her into a positioni where it looks like she needs somebody to help her up, a******e) knows as much about what that piece "says" as the artist.

Pastor_Jeff said...

"Most public sculpture, especially in the Trafalgar Square and Whitehall areas is triumphant male statuary."

Yes, becuase most of the statuary in public spaces reflects the ideals and aspirations of the nation. How does a handicapped pregnant woman ennoble the people or give them pride in their history or country? There's nothing wrong with creating art that reflects the diveristy of the population. But do the caryatids on federal buildings now have to reflect equal representation of race, gender, and ability? Or is this part of the movement to declare everyone a "hero"?

Simon said...

I rather like it. It reminds me of, what's her name, the artist who had to have a masectomy and published photographs of the scar, back when that was sort of taboo. Not necessarily in the sense of some opprobrium, but in the sense of something that just wasn't spoken about, wasn't really widely understood.

Simon said...

most of the statuary in public spaces reflects the ideals and aspirations of the nation. How does a handicapped pregnant woman ennoble the people or give them pride in their history or country?

Perhaps it represents a national ideal that physical handicap does not prevent people from participating in the activities of life? Isn't that a valid expression of national pride, that we believe so strongly that the content of a person's soul that physical disability is no barrier?

Pastor_Jeff said...

Simon,

That's a fine ideal. And I'm gald we live in such a society. Put up a statue that actually represents heroic effort to overcome obstacles and achieve something great - such as Hellen Keller, a handicapped FDR, or a George Washington Carver who overcame severe racial discrimination. Heck, put up a statue to Christopher Reeve.

The woman inspired the artist - great. She doesn't inspire me because I know nothing about her and why she should be an archetype. Looking at the statue, what I take away is "Here's a handicapped woman who's pregnant." Being handicapped and pregnant happens to thousands of people and doesn't make them heroic or noble and doesn't mean their lives are especially noteworthy.

leeontheroad said...

"Art" intended to inspire or reflect national aspirations, while common-- perhaps even unavoidable-- is no more aesthetically pleasing on that basis than "art" intended to be either or both "inclusive" or provide counterpoint to "heroic" figures.

If displays in the public square are all about intended message, we can spend oddles of time discussing whether we a) support the message, or b) feel such a message belongs in the square.

I favor lots of input into the public square, despite the GIGO factor.

This "machine-made" sculpture with a bad head gets my vote as part of the "garbage in." It's so disturbingly static, I don't think the artist even achieved any intention to ennoble the model. (One caveat: I can't tell a great deal from the screen images, so I'm an "audience" quite different from the intended audience in the square.)

lindsey said...

I don't like this statue at all. In any other context it would be fine (not fine, more acceptable), but in the context of Trafalgar Square with all the strong and noble male statuary, it comes off as a commentary on women. It's like they're saying that womanhood and even pregnancy is a disfiguring handicap. The guy who put this together would get along real well with the cretins who keep menstruating women in cow sheds.

Sissy Willis said...

Back when the statue was first announced last year, I Googled around a bit and found myself "unexpectedly moved by the images themselves while repelled by the phony, self-congratulatory pc drivel that swarms like flies around them."

Let the art speak for itself

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tiggeril said...

I would be much more in favor of this sculpture if she was standing. Depending on her pose, that could be a statement of triumph. Hell, put her on a horse, even.

Instead, she's just sitting there. You might as well put a picnic basket next to her.

downtownlad said...

I like it. It's obviously fostered a lot of debate, so it can't be that bad.

Ann Althouse said...

Sippican: I added a link with more info on Lapper -- including a picture of her (armless) holding the baby.

tiggeril said...

This bothers me perhaps more than it should. Where's the dynamism? The look of defiance on her face? Something to tell the viewer that, yes, she's just fine on her own, thank you, and she doesn't need arms because she's strong enough and determined enough to handle whatever comes her way.

Instead, what we have is a statement of passivity. I agree, harkonnendog, that she looks like she's waiting around for someone to help her up.

Maybe it says more about the current Western world than it should.

Jennifer said...

I realize I tend toward the linear, but now that I've read the additional article on Alison Lapper, I can't stop trying to figure out the day to day realities. How did she change Parys' diapers? How did he end up slung over her shoulder like in the picture? I suppose she could nurse him in a sling. But, someone would have to put him in the sling for her, then switch sides for her when he finished one side, then burp him for her.

She says she was a single mother. So, perhaps she hired someone full time to actually care for the baby for her? So, then, what hurdles did she overcome? The nanny employment process? The difficulty of affording in-home care?

I'm confused how becoming pregnant and birthing a child with no ability to actually care for said child is an accomplishment.

Perhaps the accomplishment is simply the willingness to try. I can't say that I understand the message. But, I suppose it certainly did make me think.

Hey said...

if you want to celebrate a disabled hero, you could do another statue of nelson that makes his loss of an eye and an arm more apparent (his missing arm is pinned to his side, as if in a cast, and it doesn't make it apparent that he was seriously disabled, though not in a way that affected his abilitiy to do his duties).

the pregnant naked lady without arms... not that heroic. a good british woman for a statue could be QE I, Baroness Thatcher...

Sally said...

Wow, this certainly is a successful piece, judging from the strong opinions in the responses.

I agree with Ginna and Simon - I think it's fantastic and beautifully done. When I saw the image of the face I immediately thought "Roman" which makes sense as the artist is conveying a woman he sees as a warrior. The Greek ideals would have been too romantic for the strength the artist wanted to convey.

And why this woman? Why not? Where's your sense of poetry people? Courage can be seen in the little things, as my favorite Anne Sexton poem suggests - in every child, in soldiers of course, in every person who has endured a great loss, in the elderly who face death. And I think it's brilliant that the artist utilized classical sculpture to convey the courage of a woman with a very nonclassical body.

If poetry doesn't inspire you, how bout Jennifer Anniston's reflections on Brad Pitt? Are you, like, missing a sensitivity chip?

Kathy Herrmann said...

I have the same questions as Jennifer about daily realities and I agree with this statement of her's

I'm confused how becoming pregnant and birthing a child with no ability to actually care for said child is an accomplishment.

HaloJonesFan said...

>Wow, this certainly is a
>successful piece, judging from
>the strong opinions in the
>responses.

Which would be great, if this were intended to be an "experimental" piece, but this is supposed to be an inspirational piece. If the sentiment it inspires is disgust or dislike, then it's a failure.

Sally said...

Halojonesfan -

Perhaps the piece is an inspiration to those who are in touch with their humanity. And perhaps the piece also exposes those who are bigoted against the disabled or even the "ugly". I'm sure some people might prefer to lock this woman in an attic her entire life, like we would have done, say 50 - 100 years ago. I personally think bigotry towards the disabled is a bit ironic, as none of us know what will happen to our own bodies in our lifetime.

Pastor_Jeff said...

Allicent,

You may want to dial down the self-righteousness. It's possible to dislike the sculpture without being inhuman, bigoted, repressive and short-sighted.

Freeman Hunt said...

Or maybe this piece is an inspiration to mediocre artists. You too can have your work displayed on Trafalgar Square. (Just make sure that your work emphasizes the theme We Are All Special Beautiful Hero Snowflakes.)

Disabled and pregnant or not, the more I think about it, the more I don't like the piece. I don't think it's very good ("slimy" was a good adjective, and the head, I agree, is bad), and I don't think it captures the heroism of the subject. It's just a lady sitting there on her butt without any expression.

Pat Patterson said...

I'm not necessarily convinced that courage is the correct term to describe the difficulties of life with disabilities. These day to day struggles evoke our admiration and by necessity our sympathy but this is part of daily life. However, Lord Nelson and his officers stood on the exposed deck of wooden ship of the line by choice, not by an accident of birth. It is when we put ourselves in extreme danger in defense of our country or our fellow man that we become courageous. Like some of your other posters today I would have wished the artist had chosen a different person to represent courage and heroism. If everyone is labeled courageous then none are.

Jeff said...

She is a painter (by mouth). There are plenty of able-bodied people her age in England that do nothing at all but wait for their dole. So by the standards of the British welfare state, she is a "hero".

By the by, speaking of how she would far as a subject under "Greek Ideals": it's true that she wouldn't be a fit subject for sculpture. In fact, the ancient Greeks would have put her in a jar and left her on a mountainside right after her birth.

Freeman Hunt said...

She is a painter (by mouth).

See, now that would make the piece better. Instead of having her just sitting on the floor, why not painting or looking proudly on at a canvas? Something to denote her vitality. As the sculpture is now, she may as well just be a lady sitting around waiting for her dole. And of course, the piece would need to be sculpted better, but that's another matter.

Even with the mouth painting though, I'm not sure it would meet the level of heroism of the other figures in the Square. There is a difference between being a vital, self-sufficient person and courageously risking your life to defend your country. Both are good, but they are not the same.

clint said...

Allicent-

You write: "I think it's brilliant that the artist utilized classical sculpture to convey the courage of a woman with a very nonclassical body."

That's just exactly it. The artist has completely and entirely failed to convey anything resembling courage.

The woman is sitting in a passive position (from which, I'm led to suspect, she would need help to arise). Her expression is not determined, but bored.

The whole story told is that she is disabled and that she is pregnant. The woman may well have an inspirational story to be told -- this piece completely fails to tell it.

somross said...

Obviously this woman did care for her child, and it sounds as though some of the posters are spinning out ideas without much knowledge about how disabled people take care of children. She sounds as though she's brainy and talented and has made a choice to pose (in photos at least) in a natural position - she doesn't have normal legs, so she can't "stand." Her son is a few years old and looks in the photo as though he doesn't have his mother's syndrome.

Jennifer said...

Obviously this woman did care for her child, and it sounds as though some of the posters are spinning out ideas without much knowledge about how disabled people take care of children.

Somross: I don't see how you come to the conclusion that she "obviously did care for her child".

In a synopsis of a documentary featuring her, the following quote is included "Alison soon realises that she cannot cope without a live-in nanny to assist her
when she breast-feeds, bathes her baby and changes his nappy."

Also..."When her first nanny decides to leave without notice, Alison is thrown into a major crises, but she is determined to keep her baby at home. Luckily she has a strong network of friends to help her out, and in spite of all her difficulties she is managing the situation surprisingly well."

I think all of us could raise a child with ease if we could afford full time help or have all our friends pitch in. Caring for a small child isn't easy without a disability, so I'm not trying to demean her. But, I don't understand why simply having a disability and then having a child propels someone to hero status.

And I do maintain that she quite clearly could NOT do it by herself.

Jennifer said...

As I said before, I tend toward the linear. Perhaps what I'm missing here, is that although all the art depicts is the fact that the woman is pregnant and disabled, it is meant to represent her as a whole including her art and work on behalf of the disabled.

I don't suppose the statue of Nelson accurately conveys all of his accomplishments either.

somross said...

I haven't seen the documentary, but from what I've read it appears she combines what she can do herself with what she can hire others or arrange for others to do: caring for your child may often mean getting others to do part of the work, whether they are family, friends, or people you hire. There's no guarantee for anyone that we'll always be physically capable of parenting tasks.

tcd said...

I agree with Jennifer as I, too, " don't understand why simply having a disability and then having a child propels someone to hero status." I think this is another case of elevating a victim of circumstance to celebrity. What has Lapper done or accomplished that countless others, abled and disabled persons, have not done or accomplished?
And Allicent, just because some of us do not think that Lapper should be elevated to equal stature as Admiral Lord Nelson, it does not mean that we would like to lock her up in the attic.

Jeff said...

The damp cloth was pulled away and the sculpture was seen, impressive in its mass, slick in its machine-made smoothness, repellent in its fascistic assertion of propaganda as art.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2005/09/17/do1701.xml&sSheet=/opinion/2005/09/17/ixopinion.html

Michael said...

Let's face it. This is just the beginning of art-that-shocks-the-bourgeoisie (supposedly) escaping the gallery and imposing itself all over the city.

Be prepared to drive into work through a 50-foot vagina and eat lunch in a park dominated by Jesus floating among turds. Thanks a lot, art phonies.

Sally said...

Of course some might view this as shock art. We let the cripple out of the attack 50 years ago, and now someone has the nerve to make a beautiful sculpture out of one who had the nerve to have gotten herself pregnant and didn't even manage to have an abortion!

I have to ask Ann. Being that this is your blog, are you offended by any of the comments on this thread? I know some have been offended by my comments which I'm really o.k. with. Because I don't think all the opponents are merely stating that they don't like a sculpture, but rather such a person, who cannot even stand up, should not be the subject of a classics inspired sculpture with a message of courage. A woman such as this, is indeed as shocking and offensive to some as a Jesus amongst turds.

Ann Althouse said...

Allicent: I dislike shock art and political art. I care about feminism and, like just about everyone, want to see persons with disabilities succeed. I tend to be very judgmental toward artists who are promoting themselves and to judge this artist as using a popular cause to get ahead. I wouldn't give him any extra credit for helping a cause or any such thing. As art, how good is it? As I've said, the head is badly done, which pretty much ruins it. Secondly, it's very large and hard to judge from a photo for that reason. And it's machine-made from a body cast, not a real carving, so very little craftsmanship is involved. That's not crucial, but mostly this piece leaves me thinking, here's one of those artists who found a way to get a lot of attention without really giving us much of anything.

Sally said...

It's actually shocking to me that anyone could categorized this as "shock art". Exactly how is this "shock art"? And I'm not so sure why you are so confident that the artist is not coming from a pure place with his work and is using the subject matter in an opportunistic fashion. In regard to your critisism of artists who promote themselves, then you must not like most contemporary artists whose work is displayed. Most all successful artists promote their work. And as a trained sculptor, I find it a technically well done piece including the face. If one does not like the appropriated Roman style of the piece I can certainly accept that. In regard to your issues with the body cast, contemporary art often does not apply the same magical devotion to the craftsman as more traditional art. Some of our finest contemporary artists do not create their work with their own hands, yet guide others with their ideas. Perhaps you do not like this contemporary process? I certainly can accept this as well. Other than that, I have a lot of problems with your analysis.

Michael said...

Of course some might view this as shock art. We let the cripple out of the attack 50 years ago, and now someone has the nerve to make a beautiful sculpture out of one who had the nerve to have gotten herself pregnant and didn't even manage to have an abortion!

To the extent that I can even understand this rather incoherent statement ("let the cripple out of the attack 50 years ago"-- huh?), it is of course the thing that will come part and parcel with the 50 foot vagina towering over the entrance to the city like Saddam's forearms-- the cult of the holy victim, of whom one must never speak in any but reverent tones.

Well, tough. Allison Lapper the real woman seems intelligent, brave, jolly good for her making a good life out of a bad hand dealt. Allison Lapper the inept sculpture looks like some sort of hideous idiot basket case left on the floor by the attendants at a particularly uncaring institution. Whether or not the disabled are now to be considered fit subjects for public sculpture-- and in the society of the victim, dead white men having been outlawed as heroes, soon only the disabled, the more deformed the better, will be permitted as public art experiences-- this is an awful piece of crap social polemic art which makes a pious freak show out of an admirable woman.

The sensitive and caring are invited to turn up at my house with pitchforks and torches any time after 10 pm tonight.

Sally said...

Who is trying to dishonor dead white men? Certainly not the artist. I, as well as many others, adore and value many many a dead white man. How can one not? Dead white men have done a lot to give me the freedom I have today. The Alison sculpture works in part as a comparison/contrast to the dead white heroes in the park. I'm not really groovin' with your images of 50 foot vaginas....