Pass the Fig Leaves

There are two houses in Evansville that seem to have little in common. One is a stately brick victorian with a private garden, situated across the street from a hospital and a day care. The other is a tiny, cheap bungalow built out of wavy concrete blocks peculiar to low-income housing in the late 19th century, painted brick red. These two houses share a common factor with a home in a subdivision in Abilene, Texas. They all have a certain decorative feature that has caused various levels of uproar. I am speaking, of course, of a crappy  concrete replica of Michaelangelo's David. King David, a Renaissance masterpiece, rendered in marble by one of the greatest artistic geniuses of all time, a treasure not just for the people of Italy, but the whole world, for centuries. And what better way to honor this classic icon than to place a clumsy rendition cast in a medium better known for being something people WALK ON.

 

It seems that every time a neighborhood is faced with this nude dude sunning himself there is an uproar. People sputter and spit...they don't want their kids to see a naked guy every time they play in the yard or go to pre-school. And the general attitude of the owner of the resplendent statuary's standard response is "It's art, you prude! Get out of your puritanical mindset and join the free-thinking 21st century!"

And I say? B. S.

I say that as one of the people who complains. Every Sunday when we drive to church we pass a janky house in Howell that boasts what is essentially a garden gnome dressed up as David for Halloween. It's rather small, and appears to be rendered out of feta cheese that has been left at room temperature. The first time I made a disgusted sound my eight year old son asked me what the problem was. He recognized the statue from Spongebob Squarepants (Of course! He takes after me. Like Jerry Seinfeld, all of my knowledge of art and culture originated from Looney Tunes). I explained to him the history of the statue, the great genius of Michaelangelo, and how making a cheap, indistinct copy and throwing it on your front porch was not honoring to the artist. Apparently he really likes this little speech, because he asks me to repeat it EVERY SUNDAY. And then he says "Well, when I am a grown up, I'm getting one." And I say, "You go right ahead."

Am I bothered that my kid is exposed to the form of a nude man every week? Heck no. He has a penis. He knows what they look like. And I'm not bothered that he knows about it from cartoons, because he was at least exposed to a photograph of the real thing. Cartoons really are a great cultural medium...elevating the same thing they are lampooning. I don't care that he thinks that statue is really cool. He's eight years old. When I was eight I would have loved a miniature statue of David wearing a bowler hat and a bow tie to put in my room with the ball pit and the giant gumball machine. It would have gone splendidly with the Dogs Playing Poker on black velvet. Fake statues of David belong in PeeWee's Playhouse.

One of my friends, an extremely talented artist in her own right, was rather conflicted when the house near the hospital was under attack for the statue of David they had prominently displayed in their yard and lit by SPOTLIGHTS, located across from a pre-school. It was during our conversation that I realized the discomfort most people have with such things has little to do with nudity and everything to do with tackiness. It's why the White House isn't decorated with posters of Van Gogh's Sunflowers. "It's like spray-painting the Mona Lisa on your garage door," I told her. It's ostentatious, drawing attention not to the art, but to bad taste. Which is fine if that's your intent. But it rarely is in these situations.

The effect they are achieving is less Michelangelo and more Warhol. But the people who have these kinds of statues fail to see that the crudity lies not in nudity, but in the crass mass-production of an iconic image. They are not making an ironic statement about art, they are the kind of people ironic statements are made ABOUT.

But no one says it better than one of the commenters on this article.

"I'm rather ashamed - heck, "offended" might be the appropriate word - that the neighbor bought such a piss-poor knock-off of Michelangelo's work.

Artistic license, you say?  Bítch, please.  The sculptor took the same basic pose and completely dispensed with the anatomy that gave the original so much power (and I'm talking about anatomically correct musculature, not his pork 'n' beans).  They took an iconic masterpiece and reduced it to cheap imitation suburban dreck. With a mullet.

Philistines."

Bravo, Benny the Icepick. Nailed it.