Public Art

Thinking about Design

A WELCOME CYPHER

Budapest. An ordinary subway platform. Folks around me are rushing for the train, fussing about money and time, brains looping with the usual worries. I’m a tourist standing among them, wondering about signage and maps and getting off at the right stop. Together, we run into these two characters. Me for the first time. Many of them, no doubt, passing by two old friends. Or maybe irritated at having to squeeze around a lump of bronze where there could have been benches for their tired feet. It’s public art. I have to admit, I don’t get it. That is to say, I can’t tell you what it means. Semaphoric Man (yes, that’s a guy, shirtless) + Heroic Dog. Nevertheless, I like it right away. I take a picture of it in crappy light before the train comes. It makes me happy looking at it now. Boy, when public art works, it really works. A gift, unbidden, stops you in your tracks. Lifts you out of you into insta-surreality. Not all public art does this for me. There are a million rusting I-Beams in urban plazas that are just too blank to stir my imagination. (Surely that’s a statement about my limitations, not those of the I-Beams.) But this sculpture gets me going. For those of you with Magyar heritage, its meaning may be obvious: a political in-joke, perhaps, or some biting social commentary. For me, however, it’s a welcome cypher. A chance to fall back into the POV of the pre-verbal child where things are clearly meaningful and yet utterly mysterious. Where my job is to decode meaning-for-others into meaning-for-me.

So–for me–this is a statue about statues. It’s about the fact that it’s not a be-ribboned general astride an enormous horse atop a marble monument crowning a once-royal garden of flowering topiaries placing its subject so high that only the hooves are at eye-level. Nope. Instead, it’s underground. On the floor. The guy’s sitting alright, but on a chair not a stallion. And the hero here isn’t even him, it’s the dog. The dog gets the steely gaze. Ha! Even if I’m wrong and it’s, “in fact,” the re-telling of a beloved legend that I should know, this particular work of public art makes room for my storytelling. What I remember, as I look at it, is a story coming to me and how fun that was. So I say, here’s to the I-Beams, for among them we get to stumble upon a guy in a chair signaling “Go Forth!” to a dog who’s clearly capable of saving the world.

© i.e. ideas expressed 2011

About Amanda McTigue

Author. Director. Teacher. My debut novel, GOING TO SOLACE was named one of four "Best Reads of 2012" by public radio's KRCB "Word by Word." A collection of short stories, "Convergence," is due out in 2015. A second novel, "Monkey Bottom," will follow.
This entry was posted in Artistry, Design, Expression, I:DEAS, LIFE, Stuff, Travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Public Art

  1. amctigue says:

    I must be on the wavelength. A great article in NY Times arts section today about public art including some great photos.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/19/arts/design/outdoor-sculpture-on-new-york-streets.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=public%20art&st=cse

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