Should $515,000 in Taxpayer Money Pay For the Long Island City “Gumby” Sculpture?

The controversial sculpture has been compared to "pink poop" by local residents.

A rendering of Ohad Meromi's Sunbather. Photo via LIC Post.

With two of New York’s most cutting-edge exhibition venues—MoMA PS1 and SculptureCenter—just blocks away from one another in Long Island City, you might expect residents of the Queens neighborhood to be receptive to an offbeat public art proposal. But locals are up in arms over a proposed public art project by Israeli sculptor Ohad Meromi.

While Meromi’s eight-foot-tall, shocking pink sculpture, Sunbather, could be compared to works by Franz West, but instead it has drawn comparisons to both “Gumby’s grandmother” and “pink poop” from commenters at the Long Island City Post. It’s also expected to cost $515,000 in tax dollars to complete and install in a grass median on Jackson Avenue, giving rise to some lively debate about aesthetics and public expenditures.

The project is part of the city’s Percent for Art initiative, which ensures that one percent of the budget for city-funded construction projects is used for public artwork.

Last night, city councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, whose district includes Long Island City, held a town hall meeting with Tom Finkelpearl, the commissioner of New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs. The Meromi project was one of several topics on the agenda.

Van Bramer is drafting a bill that will allow for a more transparent process for commissioning public art, in hopes of avoiding a similar controversy in the future. Part of the reason for the squabble surrounding Sunbather is that members of the community claim they were not made aware of the project until after it had been in the works for about a year. The proposal was presented to the local community board for the first time last November.

While several area artists and residents were part of the community review process that initially selected the artist, they did not have votes. Giving these advisers future voting rights was one of the ideas proposed by attendees at last night’s meeting.

A more recent rendering of the project. Photo: Credit Ohad Meromi/NYC Department of Cultural Affairs.

A more recent rendering of the project.
Photo: Ohad Meromi/NYC Department of Cultural Affairs.

Community members have also expressed anger over the fact that renderings of the proposed sculpture were not made publicly available until after the artist had been greenlighted by the Department of Cultural Affairs.

The sculpture has been slated to go up in summer of 2016, but according to both Van Bramer’s office and the Department of Cultural Affairs, it’s not yet a done deal.

The next step is for the work to go before the Public Design Commission. No date has been set for that step.

A spokesperson for the Department of Cultural Affairs noted that the image that has been widely circulated (top) is an older rendering of the proposed project and that changes are likely. Specifically, the bright pink hue (which seems to be at the root of many of the aesthetic complaints) may be subject to change.

And how does the artist feel about the outpouring of hatred for his work? “It doesn’t feel great,” he confessed to the New York Times.

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