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The modern-day Venus de Milo
March 18, 2004 9:21 AM   Subscribe

This seems quite a positive thing. Weird what some people have to say about it though.
posted by ed\26h (37 comments total)

 
Touching story but do we really need to have her staring down at us from Trafalgar Square. This really is a farce. Leave the plinth empty - what's wrong with a bit of air. Just more taxes wasted.

Dominic Moore, UK



What a total cunt :/
posted by ed\26h at 9:24 AM on March 18, 2004


(While this is interesting, a little more explanation in the post wouldn't've hurt. Read more like a personal blog entry.)

I would have liked to see the sculpture from more than just the side angle. Hard to judge a three-dimensional object from a single side.
posted by me3dia at 9:33 AM on March 18, 2004


Umm, is this safe?
posted by kickingtheground at 9:41 AM on March 18, 2004


I think it's great. Debate is good. Art is good.

OT: I think it's great the BBC allows comments on their site. I can't think of a major US news outlet that does that.
posted by o2b at 9:49 AM on March 18, 2004


"Umm, is this safe?"

I'd guess since the kid is four now, yeah, it probably didn't do him any harm.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:49 AM on March 18, 2004


Dude, I'm exhausted trying to take care of a baby...who has now learned how to walk. I can't even imagine trying to do it without arms or legs. Good on her. What an amazing person she must be.
posted by dejah420 at 10:16 AM on March 18, 2004


Allison is an amazingly strong woman and its a great story.

Most of the comments were extremely positive with the exception of the last curmudgeon, Dominic Moore.

Nice post!
posted by fenriq at 10:37 AM on March 18, 2004


I think it's great that such a powerful image of femininity will be in a place so associated with war and heritage."

So do I.

A woman without arms, sculpted in her pregnancy, to sit in Trafalgar Square.

Best wishes to Ms. Allison Lapper, and to the artist Marc Quinn.

Art is the allmother.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 10:39 AM on March 18, 2004


I'm happily astonished at the uniform positivity this story has generated. Kudos to Allson, and to everyone involved, for making a different choice than the usual for once.

(Of course, in the next thread over, the American Empire continues to slowly crumble under the weight of its own self-willed igorance.)
posted by chicobangs at 11:08 AM on March 18, 2004


... as well as its ignorance. Hmf.
posted by chicobangs at 11:10 AM on March 18, 2004


I think it's kind of a dumb thing to make such a prominent sculpture about, but I'm not the one who commissioned it. Hey, whatever.

My issue probably comes down to a dislike for mythologizing the disabled. It's creepy, as though it says they exist to teach the rest of us lessons about Timeless Things. Venus On Wheels by Gelya Frank was ostensibly about a woman with a similar disability, and that book bothered me for similar reasons. I felt like I was being told to think of the handicapped as object lessons.
posted by Hildago at 11:16 AM on March 18, 2004


My issue probably comes down to a dislike for mythologizing the disabled. It's creepy, as though it says they exist to teach the rest of us lessons about Timeless Things.

I don't see why a sculpture of Lapper is any "creepier" than one of a statue of a woman with limbs. I wouldn't say she's mythologized, but that she is presenting herself as a worthy subject of art.
posted by orange swan at 11:44 AM on March 18, 2004


Hildago is right. It's the height of handicap kitsch, and if hadn't read the article, I might have thought it was the latest from Jeff Koons.
posted by Faze at 11:49 AM on March 18, 2004


handicap kitsch

Yes, I agree. I find the showy pro-natalism grates too; it comes across as her producing a child as a lifestyle choice and to prove a point about her ability to do it.
posted by raygirvan at 12:27 PM on March 18, 2004


raygirvan: nyah nyah nyah. "you just did that cuz you could"

What are you, five years old?

I have two responses to this work of art. The first is a sense of perspective that helps answer whatever tendency I may have to self-pity. The second, much more considered response is to begin looking at those who live with disabilities as humans first. Humankind in all its strangeness has always been the first subject of art.
posted by divrsional at 1:25 PM on March 18, 2004


handicap kitsch

Why is it kitschy to portray a pregnant handicapped woman? Is the Venus de Milo kitschy? If your answers are yes, no, I'd be interested in hearing why and how you distinguish the two.
posted by orange swan at 1:55 PM on March 18, 2004


dislike for mythologizing the disabled... handicap kitsch... showy pro-natalism...

You people have, um, issues. Do you look at other art that way? "Ooh, that madonna is depicted with a child—showy pro-natalism!" Jesus. (So to speak.)

Nice post; it's good to have a break from the usual stream of filth and corruption.
posted by languagehat at 1:56 PM on March 18, 2004


... a dislike for mythologizing the disabled.
I have to agree to with this sentiment to some extent. Not to take away from the achievements of anyone who is born with a disability in any way, but it seems that many people look up with admiration every time a disabled person does something that a "normal" person does, without considering how much assistance that person received to do it. This may not be the case with Alison Lapper, of course, but seems to be a general attitude and is a form of discrimination no less than denying opportunities to someone who is disabled.

That said, I like the statue (from what I could see given the small photo) and see no reason why any mother should not be cast in stone and displayed in public - Ms Lapper is as good a subject as any.
posted by dg at 3:31 PM on March 18, 2004


It's just another excuse for liberals to stand around and proclaim how liberal they are. Fair play to Alison Lapper, but this is nothing more than self-congratulatory nonsense... "oh yes Daaarling - of course we have disabled friends". If you want to celebrate the extraordinary abilities of disabled people, then might I suggest putting up a statue of somebody who's extraordinariness goes beyond the capabilities of the avarage person. If you get a statue, it should be for doing something everyone else dreams of being able to do.
posted by seanyboy at 3:46 PM on March 18, 2004


here's some more quinn
I really like the whole series--and he's said about them: I'm not physically disabled myself but from working with disabled sitters I realised how hidden different bodies are in public life and media. Her pregnancy also makes this a monument to the possibilities of the future.
Once you get beyond the surprise of it, there's a lot to think about.
posted by amberglow at 4:29 PM on March 18, 2004


I realised how hidden different bodies are in public life and media.
There's a reason different bodies are hidden in public life and the media. It's very complicated, but by valorizing this woman for her unsought physical difference is patronizing, insulting in its way, and (as some posters have already noted) is mainly about giving those those normal people who think they "get" the sculpture a glow of self-congratulation for their sensitivity. As seanyboy points out, Stephen Hawking's your man if you want to look at somebody overcoming handicaps big-time, but a nude Stephen Hawking would lack the kinky sexiness that is another dimension of this tasteless work. The comparison to Venus de Milo is too dumb for words. I would hate to think that any MeFiers actually thought V. de M. was orginally sculpted without arms. Actually, the sculputure in question most resembles a Henry Moore.
posted by Faze at 5:47 PM on March 18, 2004


The comparison to Venus de Milo is too dumb for words. I would hate to think that any MeFiers actually thought V. de M. was originally sculpted without arms.

My guess would be that everyone who contributed to this thread knew that the V de M's arms were broken off - and if they didn't know it to begin with, it was mentioned in the linked article.

And I think it's an apt comparison. Why is a woman with a "perfect" body a fit subject for a sculpture while a disabled woman is not? Why would an ordinary but able-bodied woman be sculpted without question while if a ordinary and disabled one is, it's "valourizing" her, and condescending to her?

I think that sculpture has grace and beauty and dignity and that it reminds one that those qualities aren't exclusively to perfect model types.
posted by orange swan at 7:03 PM on March 18, 2004


I agree. I think we need more disabled-body sculptures.

I hope you all are as enthusiastic about my sculpture of a conjoined, hydrocephalic twins, one only 1/2 complete.

It has grace and beauty and dignity, I assure you.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:06 PM on March 18, 2004


Nobody seems to have mentioned that this is a temporary installation: it's not going to be there forever.

Have to say, I saw the model in the national gallery and it's pretty poor. Clumsily executed, the face has the vapid blankness of a Barbie doll. Maybe the final version will be better.

Also, of the four on the shortlist, they chose the least challenging two. The rejected Mannequin showed two Tomahawk missiles, to be made of the same wood as Nelson's ships. That was a much more interesting and ambiguous statement, bringing up the point that Trafalgar square is a celebration of military might (victory in the battle of Trafalgar) by depicting the principal weapon of the modern navy.

The other rejectee was this one's for the pigeons, an organic work to be gradually allowed to become covered in pigeon droppings.

Instead of anything genuinely exciting, we've got a badly-made traditional statue, with a clumsy, politically correct message about being generally, vaguely aware of the Humanity of the Disabled.

Bit of waste, but at least it's only temporary.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:46 AM on March 19, 2004


I'd like to ask those who believe that this sculpture is mythologizing the disabled, handicap kitsch, showy pro-natalism or self-congratulatory nonsense whether they suppose that it is in any way possible to create and publicly display a sculpture of a disabled, pregnant woman without it fulfilling one or more of those descriptions. And if so, what differences would have to have been made to this particular case to make sure of that.

Also, some seem to have concluded that the artist and those involved with its choice for Trafalgar square were entirely or at least predominantly motivated by self interest, either the politically correct aspect or the kudos of having acquaintances who are disabled. However, it seems the only premise put forward to support this, and had them draw the empirical conclusion that is the case, is simply that they think it is so. This is all quite aside from the fact that the motives of those who created and hosted the piece are quite irrelevant to any positive effects its existence may have.
posted by ed\26h at 4:28 AM on March 19, 2004


ed\26h: do you believe that a sculpture of a disabled, pregnant woman is automatically a good one because of its subject? Regardless of the skill, or lack of it, of the artist?

It's interesting that the BBC chose to show two images of the model statue, but both had the face turned away from the camera. Faces are the hard bit for an artist to do, and the interesting bit for a viewer. It's not a very good sign if you have to hide the face to make the statue look good.

This pic shows the face a bit more, but it's too small to really capture the vacuity of the expression.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 5:20 AM on March 19, 2004


do you believe that a sculpture of a disabled, pregnant woman is automatically a good one because of its subject? Regardless of the skill, or lack of it, of the artist?

TheophileEscargot: I do not. And this was in no way stated, implied or could be deduced from my post. If you are able to answer my question, I'd be interested in what you have to say.

It's not a very good sign if you have to hide the face to make the statue look good.

I'm sure that is true, but you suggest there are no other possibilities for why the face was not shown. There are.
posted by ed\26h at 5:49 AM on March 19, 2004


ed\26h: Sure I think it would be possible to do a good sculpture of a pregnant Alison Lapper. This isn't it.

However, I'm in a tiny minority here. Most artists and critics seem to agree that traditional, figurative art is pretty much dead. It's played out, all the permutations have been explored. So, the conventional view would be that any realistic statue now is just kitsch or repetition.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:03 AM on March 19, 2004


Sure I think it would be possible to do a good sculpture of a pregnant Alison Lapper. This isn't it.

TheophileEscargot: That's fine. But it's not an answer to the question. It's the answer to a different question.
posted by ed\26h at 6:20 AM on March 19, 2004


ed\26h: well, maybe you should clarify your question. You seem to be asking four different, loaded, questions in one, mostly using mysterious jargon.

Regarding whether it is possible to "create and publicly display this sculpture without..."

mythologizing the disabled
Who cares? That's not necessarily a bad thing.

handicap kitsch
Yes.

showy pro-natalism
What on Earth is "showy pro-natalism"? Seems like a meaningless phrase to me.

self-congratulatory nonsense
Yes.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:32 AM on March 19, 2004


Most artists and critics seem to agree that traditional, figurative art is pretty much dead. It's played out, all the permutations have been explored
Composers have said the same thing about tonal music in the 20th Century, with the result that the concert music of our time is rackety, dissonant, and so wildly unpopular that that people will actually pay orchestras to not have to attend contemporary music concerts (by buying subscriptions tickets, and not showing up). The idea that anyone could think that figurative art is played out is so hilariously out of touch with reality, that I have to think that this might be one of those people who had to be informed that the Venus de Milo was not sculpted by Frankie Avalon, with the head of Annette Funicello. What do you think video games are? Lara Croft is nothing more than traditional figurative art made to move in the most astonishing, clever way. What do you think "Finding Nemo" is? What do you think "The Triplets of Belleville" is? What do you think that computer artists have been knocking themselves out to produce for the past 20 years -- verisimilitude! What do you think comic books are? What do you think illustration is? People hunger and thirst for traditional figurative art as the hart pants for the stream. The only people knuckleheaded enough to believe that figurative art is "played out" are bad artists, who think that if figuration goes away, they might have a chance at a career. They've been trying to wish it away for the past hundred years, but, doggone, it just holds on.
posted by Faze at 7:01 AM on March 19, 2004


The idea that anyone could think that figurative art is played out is so hilariously out of touch with reality,

modern artists still play with figures - see lucien freud, alice neel, chuck close, etc. The point is not that you just can't do representation at all, but that if you do it in a style or a way that has been done hundreds of times, people are not going to really be moved by it. The point of art isn't just to entertain you or look pretty - it's meant to stir up that same sort of feeling of awe you get alone in a beautiful forest or watching a gorgeous sunrise. The human form is a great basis for this, but representations of things by definition have an extra step involved - the form of your lover naked in the morning with sun falling through the window may make you feel awe, but a statue of it will just seem sentimental.

There has to be a universal element, and there has to be an awareness of culture, ie, writing in shakespearean language in the 20th century is forced and grasping, an attempt to ignore what you're part of and insert yourself into something you actually know nothing about (from the inside). The same is true of art - the language of representation has changed. Photography and video can provide direct representation, so painting has moved on a bit. these days I'd say even photography and video have moved on - we all know what it's like to see representative pictures, so a lot of people are exploring the ways in which film can be processed or stylized itself (to provide stark lighting, tones etc - so many movies make use of this these days). Likewise stories are becoming highly stylized and non-linear. Art moves on.

What do you think video games are? Lara Croft is nothing more than traditional figurative art made to move in the most astonishing, clever way. What do you think "Finding Nemo" is? What do you think "The Triplets of Belleville" is? What do you think that computer artists have been knocking themselves out to produce for the past 20 years

well, not exactly representative reality - most of those things are actually heavily stylized, in a way you may not even notice anymore, because we're so used to seeing representations that are not exact, and would probably find exact representations boring - i mean, we have photo and video for that, etc. And think about it this way: maybe they aren't replacing abstract art, but direct representation via photography - maybe they're moving away from pure figurative art...
posted by mdn at 8:02 AM on March 19, 2004


Art moves on. Hang in there a few more years, mdn. You'll find out that art doesn't move on. The way they teach art history, you'd think that there was a teleological movement of art from the mid-19th century to today, a kind of inevitable progress from the Turner, to the impressionists, to abstract expressionism. But "progress" in art is an illusion (actually, a twentieth century academic adaptation of the Marxist/Hegelian belief that history moves forward to some end -- which it doesn't). When it all comes down, it's still the same old story, a fight for love and glory, and people like a nice picture.
posted by Faze at 8:13 AM on March 19, 2004


Now is probably the time to bring up Komar & Melamid and their shtick. What people like has only a tenuous (at best) relation to what artists create. The only way it's an issue for Quinn is that this work is being placed out in public, instead of in a gallery or museum. The public didn't vote on this work (unless i'm wrong)--a committee chose it.

The work has already succeeded in one thing at least -- it's triggered this discussion and many more all over.
posted by amberglow at 8:27 AM on March 19, 2004


What on Earth is "showy pro-natalism"?

"Look at me, I can produce a baby!"
posted by raygirvan at 8:34 AM on March 19, 2004


"it comes across as her producing a child as a lifestyle choice and to prove a point about her ability to do it."

It does? The article says the pregnancy was unplanned. Maybe she actually decided she wanted a child, like millions of other people in the world. What's wrong with that?
posted by agregoli at 9:11 AM on March 19, 2004


Hang in there a few more years, mdn. You'll find out that art doesn't move on.

what do you mean? In the next few years what has happened over the last 2500 will turn out to have been just a blip on the radar, and these few years will show that? Or are you just making a condescending comment about how I understand art?

But "progress" in art is an illusion

who said anything about progress? I just said it moves on, not that it gets better. It just has to react to the times in which it is made - it has to be part of the culture, reflect that culture, and keep us interested. If it merely copied what had been done before, there would be no creative spark or meaning to it.

When it all comes down, it's still the same old story,

I never tried to claim that the meaning or intent of art changes - in many ways, of course it's the same old story - that's why we continue to call it art, even though its form changes. Art is not defined by what it is, but by what it does - how it makes us feel, how it makes us think. The point here is that the format, the media, the ways this is achieved, change with the culture. It certainly doesn't mean that anything becomes off limits, or that anything novel is genius - a lot of contemporary art will die away and be forgotten because it doesn't really do anything to the viewer. It's hard to see when you're in thick of it so to speak, but there is a lot more created in a period of time than gets put into the annals of history. There was an exhibit at the MOMA a few years back on the highly regarded artists of about 1900, almost all of whom are forgotten now - it was interesting to see what people thought would last back then. I'd imagine in a hundred years there will be a retrospective and people will laugh at damien hirst's popularity.

a fight for love and glory, and people like a nice picture.

I'm not sure what you mean by "a fight for love and glory" and I disagree with "people like a nice picture". "nice pictures" are wallpaper, background prettiness. Art transfixes you. For a work of art to be important to me, I have to feel happy to stand and stare at it for a long time - not as a blank-out, easy-on-the-eyes sort of thing but as an experience of beauty, awe, intensity, pain, gratitude, and/or connection.
posted by mdn at 12:59 PM on March 19, 2004


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