By Jim McCloskey
If you’re like me and see life as a weird balance of the tragic and the comic, I have a couple stories tailor-made for you.
First the comic – and forgive me for its reference to a component of male anatomy:
“When the Dutch city of Leeuwarden commissioned 11 fountains by modern artists to celebrate being made European capital of culture 2018,” begins the article on The Guardian web site, “it probably didn’t expect such stiff opposition.”
Apparently the commissions were distributed among leading international sculptors, effectively closing out local artists who, according to the report, “were not happy with what they saw as the elitist imposition of outside art on their small city.” Their response was a crowd-funded 25-foot fountain set around a public toilet and adorned by 220 stylized wooden penises.
When anyone using the facility flushes a urinal or commode, writes The Guardian, the 220 “jets” start to squirt.
“What we are protesting against is that these fountains have been imposed on us,” noted Henk de Boer, the squirting fountain’s designer. “The theme of the celebration of Leeuwarden capital of culture is ‘community,’ so it’s ironic that the Frisian population was not involved in the decision-making and that no Frisian artist has been asked to design a fountain. It’s like you are talking with a group of friends and suddenly an enormous stranger steps in and takes over the conversation.”
The local antagonism toward their work came as a surprise to the 11 artists who’d been asked to participate. Some were confronted by residents who offered suggestions aimed at making the sculpture more appropriate to the town (substituting porridge spoons for lions in one case); other artists responded more productively by working with local craftspeople.
The best response, however, came from project organizers, who deftly expanded the list of celebratory fountains to 12 and have made de Boer’s public facility part of the official program. Nice thought, that.
To see the public toilet’s adornment as well as some of the commissioned fountains, click here.
Now for the tragic – which has to do with yet another threatened cultural landmark in San Francisco:
According to an article on The Architect’s Newspaper web site, Lawrence Halprin’s United Nations Plaza and its fountain (which was added to the setting in 1975 as part of a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the signing of the U.N. charter in San Francisco after World War II) are being considered for renovation, with all three proposals under discussion either substantially altering or eliminating the fountain.
Inspired by Halprin’s observation of natural structures in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the fountain’s skillfully arranged blocks are inscribed with representations of the seven continents. Technologically advanced for its time, it features a control system that responds to wind conditions to reduce the potential for splashing the local gentry.
But the park has long been a problem child – and has indeed been compromised in several ways since it was dedicated many years ago: All benches were removed at one point, for example, because the park had become a gathering place for the homeless, and the fountain itself was turned off for a while, one assumes to make the place even less appealing.
It always depresses me to see these stories. In this case, I’d be thrilled if they found a way to include the fountain in the remodeled park without the sorts of truncations now under discussion. The article (click here) indicates that the fountain is eligible for protection through the National Registry system: Here’s hoping San Franciscans will go to bat for Halprin’s legacy and figure out some way to leave well enough alone!