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

credit: City of St. Petersburg
Rendering depicting views from Vinoy Park in daylight and night illumination  and from Museum of Fine Arts St Pete in daylight and night illumination of Janet Echelman's proposed art piece.
credit: City of St. Petersburg Rendering depicting views from Vinoy Park in daylight and night illumination and from Museum of Fine Arts St Pete in daylight and night illumination of Janet Echelman's proposed art piece.
Published January 22
Updated January 24

Whatís the going rate for a piece of art that looks like a rainbow-colored pigís 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, Echelmanís 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 artistís 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. Itís 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 Echelmanís "The Blob" as just the addition needed to vault the cityís 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 Echelmanís 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. Donít rule out their demise might be voluntarily self-inflicted.

Some opponents have raised the minor, little issue of what happens to Echelmanís 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 cityís problems, or what would be left of it, would be the fate of some artistís 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.

Echelmanís 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 cityís 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. Thatís not such a terrible thing. What is art? It is a wise expenditure of public money?

And it could be worse. Had Krisemanís 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."

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