Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ugly Public Art, Fun Public Art

The Concrete Cows of Milton Keynes, England were done by Elizabeth Leyh in 1978. Milton Keynes is a new town of the 1960s built to move Londoners elsewhere. It is regularly regarded as the ugliest city of Britain. Le Corbusier was an architect who used béton brut (cement poured into wooden forms, and repeated), in english this was called brutalism, and brutal it is. One sees these dull, repetitive, concrete, block buildings everywhere. These brutal buildings are in Milton Keynes.

The cows are a public art installation. They were ridiculed by many critics upon introduction. They are vandalised and abused regularly. Sometimes it is humorous, and delightedly whimsical as when they had pajamas painted upon them; sometimes it is vicious (they have been decapitated). Overall, they are enjoyed by children. They are climbed upon.
left: Justice Center; back: old courthouse; foreground: minimalist sculpture[sic]
Just before this time (in 1976), Cleveland, and Cuyahoga County, Ohio had a new court house, the Justice Center. It was built in this brutalist style. Court rooms and jails are dreary enough, brutalism is an additional portion of dehumanisation. The old courthouse is a Beaux-Arts gem, built in the time of Tom Johnson, and part of several such public buildings downtown. It presents a sense of civic grandeur.

In front of the new is an Isamu Noguchi sculpture, The Portal. It is a pipe with five 90° angles, not all in the same plane. An union electrician, if he were to bend such a thing, would have it in the scrap pile. For a lark, he could bend a better looking paperclip out of a length of
½'' pipe in a minute or two. It was not well met, at least public money did not pay for it. Extreme minimalist in form, some think it is a masterpiece; far more think it is a piece of s***. The city and county are short of cash, sell it. Noguchi got $100,000, perhaps that can be recouped many times over. It can be replaced by a fiberglass cop.
Free Stamp, Silly Hall to the left
A few years later, 1982, Sohio (Standard Oil of Ohio) ordered a modernist sculpture from Claes Oldenburg and his wife, Coosje Van Bruggen. They wanted to make a giant rubber stamp out of metal. British Petroleum bought Sohio. They did not want it, especially not one with the word ‘free’. It went to Whiting, Indiana (a Chicago suburb with an oil refinery) for storage. The artists wanted the new location at Willard Park, next to Cleveland’s City (Silly) Hall. George Forbes, City Council President, did not want it. He finally ran for mayor, 1989, and lost. The thing was reoriented (vertical to horizontal) in the1991 installation. Children enjoy it, and no one is upset now.

Oldenburg did a clothespin for bicentennial Philadelphia; in 1999 a typewriter eraser for the District of Columbia. He was a pop artist with a sense of humour, not everybody appreciated it.

In 1986, Zürich painted lions about the city. In 1998, Zürich had painted cows deposited around town. Chicago did the fiberglass cows in 1999, then the avalanche. Multiple fiberglass models of cows have shown up in cities about the world. They are variously decorated, and it is not just restricted to cow models.

Early in Genesis, we read: And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds, and cattle, and every thing that creepeth on the earth after its kind. And God saw that it was good. And people have enjoyed these painted fiberglass animals. Cleveland is in the sixth (rabbits, which is the 4th in the zodiac) of fiberglass models of the chinese zodiac. The manufacturer of the bare models is in Chicago, and they have done animals, and other subjects for cities about the country.
The installations are partly boosterism, and sometimes fundraisers.
11/16 '' wrenches are not used that much, put it in the tiger's mouth
presently there are 24 such rabbits about Cleveland, Ralphie supra


  1. when was the free stamp actually created(specific date)?

  2. The Justice Center is heavy, banal, overbearing and fairly regrettable but I don't think it quite fits in the 'Brutalist' category. Exposed, poured concrete is more or less required to be Brutalist.

    Marcel Breuer was one of the few architects who produced commendable Brutalist architecture. Cleveland has two, now greatly compromised, buildings by Breuer: the black and white granite CMA extension and the Cleveland Trust tower that have or had Brutalist elements.