Note from the Editor: “The Artifact” is not your conventional news source—mainly because it is not a news source at all. What this weekly Sunday article provides is a platform where world events are juxtaposed with works of art, finding reflections and similarities in the often-frictional relationship between the “real world” and the “art world.” It is the case that most works of art, abstract or representative, tend to imitate life or an aspect of it. The Artifact, complementarily, seeks to find life situations that imitate works of art already made.
Iron Lady or Milk Snatcher?
Margaret Thatcher‘s passing earlier this week incited reactions that couldn’t be more varied. Similar to Hugo Chavez (and the debate over Duchamp’s urinal), Thatcher had a way of dividing popular opinion. Perhaps it was her unyielding and uncompromising leadership style, earning her the nickname “Iron Lady,” but the truth is that she carried the stalwartness of an iron wall. You either loved her or hated her, and the reactions to her death in social media made this divisiveness apparent. On one side of her iron curtain, you had her admirers paying their respects to her undeniable historical importance.
But that’s only half the story. Trends soon appeared on twitter with the hash tags #DingDongTheWitchIsDead (referencing the demise of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz), #MilkSnatcher (due to her infamous education cuts) and #NoStateFuneral. Needless to say, this other side of the curtain contained the haters, who made their indignation appear justified through their examples of Thatcher’s failed policies.
The last time the art world saw such a division over a stalwart iron monument was a less metaphorical and more literal situation: the Tilted Arc controversy surrounding a 1981 artwork by famed sculptor Richard Serra (if Margaret Thatcher were a work of art, she’d most certainly be this). Commissioned by the United States General Services Administration (GSA), “Tilted Arc” was meant to be a site-specific public sculpture to adorn the Foley Federal plaza in Manhattan, New York. What the GSA did not know was that Serra, being a badass, did not waste his time with adornments. Ultimately, Serra would give them a truly site-specific, space-bending sculpture: a solid weathering steel plate (120 feet long, 12 feet high and 2.5 inches thick) that inconveniently forced visitors of the buildings surrounding the plaza to “interact” with it by having to walk around it. In short, it redefined the location with its placement.
There were detractors from day one, mainly some of the workers from the buildings surrounding this inconveniently placed iron wall. The sculpture would spark the most notorious lawsuit in the history of public sculptures: on one side, you had the art world standing behind Serra, famously stating that, “To remove the work is to destroy it.” On the other side, detractors complained that it was an unnecessary piece of junk, no matter how much it advanced the concept of sculptural art. To get a feel for Serra’s work––and badassness––check out the following video:
Richard Serra at MoMa: Torqued Ellipse IV (1998)
Like Thatcher, you either loved “Tilted Arc” or hated it. After years of controversy and litigation, in 1989 it was finally removed from Foley Federal Plaza and sent into storage. A year later and in similar fashion, the Iron Lady was also forced to resign her position as Prime Minister due to massive disappointments with her leadership.