Government Enshrines Right of New Yorkers to Complain About and Stop Ugly Public Art

Weigh in on "pink poop" and other projects.

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

A rendering of Ohad Meromi’s proposed public sculpture, Sunbather.
Image via: LIC Post.

The public will get a greater say in what kind of public art is erected in New York City, thanks to a new bill passed last week by the City Council, DNA Info reports.

“My bill aims to enhance the Percent for Art program by giving New Yorkers the ability to have a greater role in selecting public art projects that truly reflect the diversity of our city,” Jimmy Van Bramer, a city councilman representing Long Island City, said in a statement. Van Bramer introduced the bill earlier this year.

The new legislation only applies to the Percent for Art initiative, which was founded in 1982, and allots one percent of the budget for all city-funded construction projects for public art. Before these projects can be approved, however, now the artworks must be presented at a public hearing or community board meeting, giving local residents a chance to offer their feedback. Such presentations were previously part of the Percent for Art guidelines, but are now legally mandated.

The bill, which still needs to be signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio, was inspired by less-than-enthusiastically received plans to erect Sunbather, a bubblegum pink sculpture by Israeli sculptor Ohad Meromi, on a grass median in Long Island City at Jackson Avenue and 43rd Avenue (see Should $515,000 in Taxpayer Money Pay For the Long Island City “Gumby” Sculpture?). The project’s $515,000 budget derives from tax dollars spent on a nearby streetscape improvement project.

The eight-foot-tall figure, which is scheduled to be installed next year, has already attracted a great deal of criticism, particularly from online commentators, who have compared it to “Gumby’s grandmother” and “pink poop.”

Van Bramer, who also serves as the chairman of the council’s cultural affairs committee and majority leader, recently passed another piece of legislation that will help the city created its first comprehensive cultural plan (see New York City Makes the Arts a Priority with New Cultural Plan).

UPDATE: artnet News received the following statement from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl.

For the last 30 years the Percent for Art program has provided New Yorkers with hundreds of extraordinary works of art that enhance our libraries, plazas, schools, and other public spaces throughout the city. When I was director of this program in the 1990s, I saw the incredible value that close collaboration with residents and stakeholders brings to this process, creating a strong sense of ownership over the art work among residents and helping artists more fully engage with the communities we serve. We look forward to continuing our work to commission projects that bring great art to neighborhoods in all five boroughs.

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