Saturday, February 24, 2018
Opinion

Clucking eyesore known as 'Exploding Chicken' is here to stay

So close. So very close.

Just when you might have thought Tampa's answer to an artistic nuclear winter might have been gone forever, Bob McDonaugh had to go and spoil everything by — oh dear — bringing back the city's infamous Exploding Chicken (ahem) sculpture.

Actually the Exploding Chicken isn't the objet d'art's formal name, but rather a moniker acquired over time when the monstrosity took up wasted space at the corner of Kennedy Boulevard and Ashley Drive in front of the Beer Can Building. That's not the building's real name either, but ask for directions to Rivergate Tower from anyone in Tampa and you'll get one of those slack-jawed Deliverance-esque responses.

The sculpture would have been more appropriately titled "The Burp" when it was first installed, a 36-foot-tall mess of beams and curved panels conveying a bad dream by Quentin Tarantino minus the blood splatters.

Beginning in 1985 there it sat for about 25 years, a classic example of art from Tampa's sucker period, until the Beer Can Building was sold and the new owners, out of the generosity of their hearts, "donated" the international crime of banality back to the city.

A more likely scenario was the Beer Can owners took one look at George Sugarman's blob and said: "Can we get rid of that landfill masquerading as art before we scare any more small children?"

The Belch recalls a time during Tampa's artistic stupid period when anyone with a bad beret, the obligatory Birkenstocks and perhaps a James Bond vague Balkan bad guy accent could roll into town, pronounce himself an "artiste" and have the local culturally starved gentry, all too eager to be taken seriously as patrons of art, suddenly toss money at him to express his oeuvre even if the result was "Retching on the Hillsborough."

But we have grown up a bit since then. The new Tampa Museum of Art, which was once only a collection of ancient Greek pots and pans to boast about, today actually has some artwork to look at. And the Florida Museum of Photographic Art, which is in the Beer Can Building, also has presented some terrific exhibits.

Or put another way, it would be nice to think the city has artistically progressed to the point where we don't need no stinking Exploding Entrails. Apparently not.

McDonaugh, the wiseacre who serves as Tampa's economic opportunity administrator, managed to scrounge up $150,000 in private donations to bring back the art world's answer to Rover Makes Boo-Boo on the Rug to be placed in the traffic roundabout in front of the Florida Aquarium.

McDonaugh found enough marks to collect $150,000 to resurrect the Exploding Tweetie? From whom? The Lighthouse for the Blind? Bob, bubeleh, old chap. Your job is to create economic opportunity, not send legions of repulsed folks scrambling out of the city in terror.

Let's put it this way. The Exploding Foul is the Carnival Cruise Lines of art.

Since it had been dismantled a couple of years ago, the sculpture from Tampa's artistic senile period had been in storage and was facing (Yessssss!) being turned into scrap, which wouldn't have been that hard because it was already well on its way to being a sin against aluminum.

Alas, if McDonaugh had only moved the Exploding Daffy Duck just a few yards farther south from the roundabout, he would have found the perfect home for Sugarman's folly — as a reef in Tampa Bay. So close. So very close.

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