Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: It’s quite a piece of work, er, art that will be flying over St. Petersburg’s Spa Beach

What’s the going rate for a piece of art that looks like a rainbow-colored pig’s bladder with a gland problem?

About $2.8 million, which ought to have many of you rethinking your own career choices.

No doubt the art world is thriving, thanks in no small measure to the multitude of gullible cities that will trip over their budgets if it means getting their anxious little hands on a piece of "whatever" created by some acknowledged genius.

And that brings us to newly re-elected St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who has gone all gaga over a proposed sculpture created by Janet Echelman that might be best titled "What the Heck Is That Cockamamie Thing Anyway?"

If the giant thingy actually comes to fruition for Spa Beach, Echelman’s oeuvre will have a span of some 350 feet by 190 feet and be set aglow in a panorama of LED lights. Think of this piece as something representing the artist’s Keith Richards period.

And all this can be had in St. Petersburg for a mere $2.8 million, with about $1.5 million going to the artiste and to pay for her sculpture and the remaining funds dedicated to the construction and installation of the piece. See, and you are probably one of those parents who was aghast when one of your children announced they wanted to drop out of college and become a street mime.

Of course Kriseman has gone all atwitter over the "groovy" sculpture. He even has begun to channel his inner Bohemian by growing a beard. It’s probably only a matter of time before he starts showing up at City Hall dressed all in black, sporting a beret and wearing Birkenstocks. Can presenting the city budget in free verse be far behind?

One of the first lessons in mayor school is how to spin everything you do in superlative terms. St. Petersburg certainly has "world class" solid waste dumps into Tampa Bay. So it would naturally follow that Kriseman would hail the arrival of Echelman’s "The Blob" as just the addition needed to vault the city’s arts district into the "world class" stratosphere.

There are probably people in Paris living right down the street from the Louvre who are saying to themselves, "Louvre, schouvre, who cares about the Venus de Milo? We need to get to St. Petersburg to experience a massive shower curtain."

Alas, there are a few naysayers who are less than enamored with Echelman’s homage to tie-dying. Some critics have noted if this project ever literally gets off the ground it could represent a risk to birds killing themselves by flying into the Jabba the Hutt of artworks. Don’t rule out their demise might be voluntarily self-inflicted.

Some opponents have raised the minor, little issue of what happens to Echelman’s vision if the city ever gets hit with a Category 4 hurricane.

This is merely a red herring from the anti-art types. Really now, if St. Petersburg ever experienced a direct hit by a Category 4 hurricane, the least of the city’s problems, or what would be left of it, would be the fate of some artist’s work flying in the wind.

Besides, Echelman insisted she conducted her own feasibility study and consulted with all kinds of experts and everybody concluded everything is going to be just fine. No worries.

Echelman’s tribute to Picasso toward the end is not entirely a slam dunk. The city is trying to raise private donations to finish the job. And Kriseman has said he already has raised about $650,000 from undisclosed donors.

Who are these people so eager to part with their money and how fast can you get them to fawn over your treasured kindergarten finger-painting renderings?

The city’s Public Arts Commission plans to kick in $250,000 and the mayor is also trying to finagle another $600,000 in private fundraising. And yes, you could be forgiven if you are now second-guessing why you majored in the history of medieval hermits.

Public art efforts often become the subject of great community debate. That’s not such a terrible thing. What is art? It is a wise expenditure of public money?

And it could be worse. Had Kriseman’s opponent, the dour former Mayor Rick Baker, won the election we would probably be talking about erecting a massive pillar of sackcloth and ashes.

But it would have been "world class."

Comments
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

The Florida Department of Children and Families has correctly set a quick deadline for Hillsborough County’s main child welfare provider to correct its foster care program. For too long the same story has played out, where troubled teens who need fos...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: Educate voters on Amendment 4 and restoring felons’ rights

Editorial: Educate voters on Amendment 4 and restoring felons’ rights

This fall voters will have 13 constitutional amendments to wade through on the ballot, but Amendment 4 should get special focus. It represents a rare opportunity to rectify a grievous provision in the Florida Constitution, which permanently revokes t...
Published: 06/13/18
Updated: 06/14/18