Project Criticism Is 'Elitist'
Sunday, June 6, 2004; Page N04
To the Arts Editor:
Contrary to what Blake Gopnik said in his article ("Getting Cute With Art," May 30), no one is claiming "PandaMania" is "about addressing real issues in the world or in the history of art." PandaMania is simply intended to be an amusing and delightful public art project that, as "Party Animals" did two years ago, captures the imagination of this city for a few summer months.
I wish Blake had taken time to speak with the artists who participated in the PandaMania and Party Animals projects, many of whom find his dismissal of their talent and creative imagination offensive.
More important, the attitude he expressed toward these projects is elitist and out of touch. Projects like PandaMania require great generosity on the part of artists, who receive only a small stipend and participate because they support the general concept, the specific project and the Arts Commission's work. Party Animals and PandaMania are but two of many similar public art projects that have been extremely well received in cities around the world. As for the Arts Commission, by no means are we now or have we ever ignored Washington's prominent art community, as the article suggests. In fact, our public art programs are numerous and varied.
For example, the commission is the administrator/curator of the Washington Convention Center public art exhibition, a collection that includes work by leading Washington artists Sam Gilliam, William Christenberry, Yuriko Yamaguchi, Kendall Buster and Jim Sanborn. Other recognized artists such as Sol LeWitt and MacArthur Fellowship winner Sara Sze can be found in the Convention Center collection. The commission recently installed a sculpture downtown by Smithsonian Institution Masters of the Medium award winner Albert Paley and has commissioned numerous murals and public artworks.
Along with the Arts Commission's other public art projects, PandaMania brings art to people on streets and in neighborhoods in a manner that is very difficult for galleries and museums to accomplish. In a city where we often take ourselves a bit too seriously, PandaMania provides occasional surprise and whimsy for an audience that includes families and children. We know from our experience with Party Animals that such projects stimulate people's interest in art and motivate them to visit Washington's exceptional art galleries and museums.
We also need not disassociate art from smiling, as Blake Gopnik suggests. Works by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein often encourage a few laughs. Here's a quote from a resident who came across Francisco Quintanilla's "Booted," which was pictured with the article:
"Today at the corner of F and 12th I saw the quintessential D.C. panda, with pink 'fur' made up of mock parking tickets and with one boot -- a parking boot. It made me laugh and shattered the blues."
D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities
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