September 30, 2005
You have entered the culture-free sector
City orders art removed: Controversial 'American sector' sign gone from riverfront, The Windsor Star, Thursday, September 29, 2005, A1
The controversial piece of art that informed viewers of their departure from American soil has been taken down -- just days after its installation in Windsor's riverfront sculpture garden.
City workers removed Vancouver artist Ron Terada's 'You have left the American sector' sign Wednesday morning and delivered it to the Art Gallery of Windsor, leaving only wooden posts where it had been placed in the park at the foot of Church Street last week.
"I don't think there are any people on city council who have looked at art," said Robert McKaskell, the independent curator commissioned by the gallery to organize an exhibition of Terada's work.
"There's absolutely nothing anti-American about the sign. It's just a very bland observation of the obvious."
The piece was fabricated at Terada's request in the city's sign department and consisted of an official-looking green sign with white letters bearing the message in English and French.
McKaskell said the work was originally scheduled for display until January, to coincide with the duration of Terada's exhibition at the AGW.
Calling the sign "an integral part" of the exhibition, McKaskell said the piece is "site specific" and will not be shown in the gallery.
McKaskell said his understanding is that city council voted behind closed doors to remove the sign. "This is probably one of the very few cities in Canada that doesn't have a public art policy. So decisions are made in council without consultation."
But Mayor Eddie Francis stressed that the issue wasn't on the agenda for the closed portion of council's meeting on Monday.
"This wasn't done in camera," he said. "One thing to keep in mind is this issue never came to council to begin with. The decision to put up the sign never came to city council."
Francis said an e-mail discussion developed among council members regarding complaints about the sign they were receiving from visitors, residents and local businesses such as the hotel sector.
"It was being perceived by some as a City of Windsor sign," Francis said.
"There was no indication to people that this was an art exhibit.
"There was no indication that this was prepared by an artist. It looked like a city sign, it was made by the city's sign department. People believed it to be the city's position. That's the issue we're dealing with."
Francis said that in order to avoid confusion and to protect the city's interests, it was informally decided that general manager of client services Michael Duben would approach the AGW and request that the sign be moved to gallery property.
But Gilles Hebert, AGW director, was unequivocal about who decided to take down the piece. "It wasn't our decision, it was the city's decision," he said. "We made it clear that we would co-operate, of course."
Hebert said he isn't aware of the gallery receiving any negative feedback about the piece, and added that this situation highlights the need for a forum on public art.
"We had gone through the process, bringing this to all the right parties at the city in the summer. It's not like this just came up last Monday," Hebert said.
"We need to establish a policy around these kinds of projects."
Coun. David Cassivi, who supported the piece's removal, reiterated his concerns regarding its artistic merit.
"I certainly don't claim to be an art critic. But I know when something is questionable as to its art value," he said.
"Just because someone says it's art doesn't make it so. I can put up anything -- most people would say that's not art."
"If it's construed as art in your mind, then keep it on your property."
Sigi Torinus, an assistant professor of visual arts at the University of Windsor who witnessed the dismantling of Terada's sign, said larger cities would recognize there are institutions that study art on a professional basis.
"It actually makes me think of Windsor as a very provincial place," she said. "You know, small-town thinking. I find it quite amusing, really."
Here is a document from the Art Gallery of Ontario with a little bit of background on Ron Terada's work, and describing the piece at the centre of the controversy, Checkpoint Charlie. Also check out Mita's post on Checkpoint Charlie from last week, before the piece was removed (she's also posted a picture). I was surprised and pleased when I read this post last week, and should have known that it was too good to be true.
And to give you some idea of the sort of public art that the City of Windsor approves of, have a look at some of the works in the Odette Sculpture Park (click on the artists' names to see images of the sculptures; the big white hand holding an apple and adorned with red fingernail polish is a must-see). I find it laughable that this site claims the Sculpture Park has some sort of curatorial "philosophy", when in reality every sculpture in the park is purchased and donated to the city by one wealthy old man named Bud Odette. Our city's public face is determined by one old man, and the city doesn't have to pay for the art.
For extra laughs, check out the works for the Windsor/Detroit "CarTunes on Parade" exhibition, celebrating the rich heritage of music and automobiles in the Motor City (and its feisty little cling-on, Windsor). I've linked you directly to the portfolio of sculptures, to save you the agony of the horrible music on the home page (you should thank me, really). Artists were given a stupid-looking cartoony car form to decorate, which had been carefully designed not to look like any particular car (wouldn't want one of The Big Three to think that the sculptures looked too much like one of the competition's models, and, you know, not donate money). Artists were required to find their own sponsors in order to pay for materials and installation, pretty much ensuring that anything at all critical of the cities or the auto industry would not make the cut. Many of these pieces simply have music notes painted all over them. There is a particularly hideous one near my house, sporting gigantic fuschia and green lilies and three roughly jigsaw-cut plexiglas jazzmen with saxophones sticking up out of the roof, that sadly doesn't seem to be pictured on the website. Maybe I'll try to get a picture of it for you when I'm home, but with any luck it will have been vandalized by then anyway.
I can help you move saturday, anytime really. There is no rush and I do not want you to feel like it is putting me out in any way, but I should help you as quickly as I can. I have to be efficient with time. Saturday is the day for me to spend some QT with the fam. I'll call you in the morning and we'll set something up. Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner. You can scribble extra hard on my drawing.
Posted by: Cap'n Pete at October 1, 2005 12:07 AM
This is my favourite sculpture in Liverpool (I actually can't think of any others really besides the god awful Yellow Submarine, lol!)
They stuck a 'City of Culture 2008' sticker on it's ass for a while and they've now moved it to a place where I don't go so I don't see it anymore. Always makes me smile, but it's got serious undertones as well.
Posted by: Anna at October 1, 2005 05:34 AM
I know the cities around here have rules about putting up signs that look like official signs. You can't make and put up your own street sign, for example.
However, if misidentification was really was the objection, perhaps they could have put up a small plaque at the base of the sign to identify the sign was an art piece? Seems like they where using it as an excuse to take it down.
Posted by: lunastrixae at October 4, 2005 10:28 AM