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It's censorship, not art, that's inappropriate

If the goal of public art is to inspire thought and discussion, then Sorcerer's Gate, a sculpture recently installed on a landscaped median in downtown Clearwater, has succeeded in spades. People are analyzing, criticizing, defending and generally just trying to figure out the fanciful purple arch with what appears to be a tail or ringlet dangling from the top.

This, supposedly, was the reason the city decided to place sculptures on the new streetscape along Cleveland Street — to get them noticed. But some City Council members seem to think that Sorcerer's Gate is getting noticed too much, and that is somehow threatening to them. They have declared that from now own, they want to sign off on all art placed in the medians.

That's just what we need — the government deciding what constitutes acceptable art and what doesn't.

Some reactions to Sorcerer's Gate have been extreme. People have called it wicked, the work of the devil, a subliminal message about Scientology, an offense to Christians. They equate the word "sorcerer" with the word "devil," though the two words have different meanings. They say the sculpture represents evil, and they want it gone.

A sorcerer is a magician, not a devil. And Sorcerer's Gate is not a message from hell, as some seem to imply, but just a colorful aluminum sculpture created by a 74-year-old Florida artist who has been experimenting with column shapes. The sculpture was not originally created for display in Clearwater, so it is not some sort of message about Scientology. In fact, the sculpture was most recently displayed in Sarasota — apparently without any community uprising.

Artist Bruce White said that those complaining about the name of his piece "must have an awful hard time with literature." As White notes, the word "sorcerer" appears in many books, including in the title of the popular Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. And if writers can use the word, "why can't artists do the same thing?" he asks.

If city officials feel that artworks with the word "sorcerer" in their title should not be in public view, should books containing the word be removed from the public library? Perhaps City Council members or the mayor want to appoint themselves to read all the works at the Clearwater library and remove any that contain "sorcerer" or other words that might cause someone to criticize the book or the city.

The city had a cool idea: Use the Cleveland Street medians as an outdoor gallery displaying works of art that will rotate annually. A board consisting of representatives of the Clearwater Historical Society, the Downtown Development Board and the Clearwater Downtown Partnership, assisted by Tampa Museum of Art interim director Ken Rollins, reviewed works submitted by artists and selected three to be displayed first, including Sorcerer's Gate.

Those who take the time to visit the outdoor gallery will find that the three sculptures selected add considerably to the ambience of Cleveland Street. Sorcerer's Gate, with its splash of purple, does the most to wake up the streetscape and attract the attention of passers-by.

The fascinating thing about art is that reactions to it are so individual. Members of the City Council, who were so supportive of the idea of a public art program, must realize that each time a new piece is erected on Cleveland Street, some won't like it. And that's okay.

It is only the officials' decision to clamp down — to try to find art that will not inspire such strong feelings — that is not appropriate.

It's censorship, not art, that's inappropriate 07/16/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 2:59pm]
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