If you read my letters, you probably realize that I dedicate most of them to events at the ISC. Periodically, however, I veer off on a tangent about an art-related topic that I find interesting or worthy of discussion. By the time you see this, many of us will be on our way to London to attend the ISC’s 22nd International Sculpture Conference, “What is Sculpture in the 21st Century?” and to celebrate the presentation of the ISC’s 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award to Phillip King and William Tucker.
Next month, I hope to tell you more about the outcome of our strategic planning process, but for the remainder of this letter, I would like to take a different direction. Since I moved to Utah in 2002, January has come to signify not the blowing sub-zero winds of Chicago but the congregation of the film industry’s who’s-who in Park City for the annual Sundance Film Festival. Broadly speaking, Sundance is about art—at least to the extent you agree that film is art (though the festival now includes a very exciting video art segment, which certainly qualifies)—but this year, it had a much more direct connection to the visual arts. In anticipation of the preview of a documentary about the world-famous graffiti artist known only as Banksy, his work magically appeared in Park City and Salt Lake City—provocative apparitions that, in my view, are completely respectful of, and responsive to, their context. From all accounts, the owners of the tagged buildings were delighted with his additions, and the throngs of Sundance visitors who sought out the work learned that the words “Utah” and “art” were not such strange bedfellows as they might have thought.
Based on this enthusiastic response, I was surprised—though I suppose I should not have been—that on-line public commentary about Banksy’s tagging here not only reflected support for his work, but also included some exceptionally negative comments. For these writers, the tagging was tantamount to criminal activity and an abuse of private property. One commentator even suggested that Banksy should not be credited as an artist at all.
I didn’t know of Banksy until two years ago (my bad), but I have come to love and respect his work. I find it to be beautiful and thought-provoking because of its location and content. Having it appear in my own “neighborhood” allowed me to realize that whatever my personal feelings, Banksy’s work fulfills some of art’s most basic and important functions, impacting, and even infringing on, our lives while making us think about and continually examine the world around us.
Well, maybe this letter is about the ISC after all. I hope to see some of you in London to begin to answer the question: What is sculpture in the 21st century?
Chairman, ISC Board of Directors
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