Sometimes too much yoga can be a bad thing. Or let me rephrase that slightly; one of yoga’s basic premises is the attainment of tranquility, and tranquil art puts me to sleep. How’s that? Last week, I was riding a bixi along Ontario street and I was stopped dead in my tracks by this at the corner of De Lorimier:
I always have an emotional response when I’m at the corner of De Lorimier and Ontario for two reasons. A) I lived there back in the 1980s and B) Delormier Downs used to be there. But anyhows, pretty much right where our front door used to be was this thing, this object that appeared to me to be some sort of something or other that I couldn’t quite figure out. So I got off my bixi and looked closer. This is where it hit me, “Omigawd!! That’s supposed to be a football game!” And I promptly burst out laughing. Then I slowly looked around and realized that there were easily a dozen more statues scattered throughout Le Parc des Faubourgs (the urban greenspace that currently occupies where I used to live – full disclosure: I know the guy who designed the park). So I got off the bixi and started roaming around.
To my untrained eye it looked like someone had decided to throw a Robert Lorrain fest in eastern Ville-marie. I had no idea who Robert Lorrain was, nor did I have any idea when, how or why his sculptures had been plopped down there. But I figured it was worth a look/see. My mistake, that’s 30 minutes of my life that I can’t get back again. Using some basic Googling skills (read: typing the words “robert” and “lorrain” into Google) I discovered that there had been a Robert Lorrain fest in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, last year.
My guess would be that M. Lorrain successfully leveraged that exhibit to get this one. Woe betide whatever city or town that chooses to host the Robert Lorrain fest next year. Now I have no clue who or what would be the person or organization that decided what gets plopped in Parc des Faubourgs, but the Bureau d’art publique de Montreal probably would be as good of a place as any to start. And so I emailed them. As soon as I hear a response, I’ll let you know.
But given M. Lorrain’s sculptures, it can’t have been too rigorous of an application. As I wrote at the top, tranquil art puts me to sleep, and that’s me being diplomatic about his work. I would also guess that the city/borough/bureaucracy paid some coin in order to get them installed. If only to pay the salaries of the guys who made sure that they didn’t fall over. But it wouldn’t be a far stretch to get artist’s fees, curator fees, transportation fees, reproduction fees, maintenance fees and you get the picture. Pulling a number out of my hat, I’d say $5,000.
Now this neighborhood desperately needs public art. Eastern Ville-marie, or Les faubourgs, as they like to call it these days (how anyone would confuse it with suburbs is beyond me) has a paucity of thought provoking objects (aka Art) to look at while you walk around. 38 of them (including graffiti murals) in an area that stretches from Berri to Préfontaine, Sherbrooke to the river, roughly 8,000 km2, or less than one every 200 km2. Unfortunately M. Lorrain’s sculptures don’t cut it.
There are some great pieces of public art in the neighborhood, Jardin Punk et Jardin De La Forêt Urbaine, Révolutions and Neuf Couleurs Au Vent to name most of them. But you can never have too much good art and you never ever can have too much good public art. Given how well designed and grandiose the Parc des Faubourgs is (did I mention that I know and like the guy who made it?) to plop some uninspired, badly made and completely unoriginal hunks of bronze and concrete down in the name of the public good is just flat out ridiculous.
But let me explain why I think that they are uninspired, badly made and completely unoriginal hunks of bronze and concrete. Let’s take Laskmi [sic] as an example.
Off the top: A) It really should be spelled Lakshmi (the Hindu goddess of beauty and wealth). And B) Instead of having her hand out as if asking for alms (especially given the circumstances of the sculpture being placed dead smack on axis facing Notre-Dame-de-Guadalupe) the sculpture should instead be giving money (or at least appearing to be giving away money) as Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth. Then once you start looking at the sculpture itself, it is the proverbial case of “my kid could have made that!” M. Lorrain’s technique is extremely simplistic, and very unskilled. And while simple and unskilled can be effective in art brut and naive art when there is a vision and an idea behind the art. Laskmi exhibits none of these qualities. On his website M. Lorrain writes “L’oeuvre est ici puissament inspirée d’une conception qui accentue et idéalise les rondeurs du corps féminin.” Or if you prefer, using Google translate: “The work is powerfully inspired by a design that accentuates the curves and idealizes the female body.” That doesn’t sound like a vision or an idea, it sounds like someone who hasn’t gotten laid in a while.
The patina, or if you prefer, the verdigris looks like she spilled some pickle juice, chartreuse, or crème de menthe all over her right side. Her hands and head are completely out of proportion to the rest of her body. The only animals that I know whose hands go down to their knees are members of the ape family, not Hindu goddesses. There is no expression on her face and her hair looks like some sort of bird landed on her head.
And it isn’t like Laskmi is an anomaly. There are a bunch of other sculptures just as badly executed.
Le dignitaire, which I would not translate as “the dignitary,” but as “Dignity” without the definite article, as in dignity personified. Mostly due to the preponderance of other sculptures named after and about weighty topics and big ideas, like L’elan, Progrès en mouvement, and Aspiration. Again there is no facial expression, which is something that just confuses the heck out of me. Just a blank face with closed eyes. I have no idea if this is because M. Lorrain cannot do facial expressions, or if he really and truly believes that dignity is the same as boredom is the same as apathy. And I also don’t quite understand the towel. I’m not so certain that waiters, bathroom attendants and masseuses are dignity personified. Yes, they are honorable professions but they aren’t the first jobs I think of when I think of dignity. And then if you notice, down at the bottom of the sculpture, there are two braces sunk in the concrete pedestal holding the base of the sculpture so that it doesn’t fall over backwards.
I could go on, but I trust you get the picture. Now the reason that I keep bringing up the yoga stuff, is that among the results of my googling, I came across an interview with M. Lorrain in the January 2004 edition of Auroville Today which places a whole heck of a lot of emphasis on how he was the “long-time sadhak of Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga” and how he had a “deep interest in spirituality.” And while it is fine and dandy to express an interest in Hinduism and alternative methods of being spiritual, it does not work as an excuse or a crutch for making bad art. No matter how honorable and deeply held your beliefs are, bad art is and will always be bad art.
Speaking of Progrès en mouvement, I gotta admit that of the works in Parc des faubourgs, it is the one that appeals to me the most. But unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. Of the dozen or so works on display it was (at least when I saw them) the only one that had been vandalized. Taken a whack of red paint and sprayed gallons of it on the eyes, and then added something looking like the word “EVIL” along with various inverted crosses and other satanic imagery. By doing that whoever the vandal was added a sense of character to the piece. Now let me put this straight, I’m not condoning vandalism in any way, shape or form. Vandalism is bad, wrong despicable and against the law. But what this particular piece of vandalism highlights is how vapid, bland and unimaginative all the pieces are.
In the exact same way that TVs that are on without sound work like blinders by forcing us to ignore them and end up make us just slightly more inured to things that are happening around us, M. Lorrain’s sculptures enable governments to think that they are doing good by exhibiting art in underprivileged neighborhoods, when in fact all they are doing is making people think that most public art useless and unenlightening.
If you’d like to see more