Tedious People

The People Project only gets worse

The Post-Dispatch article concluded with the remarks of local artist Tony Orlando, who claims that he transformed his figure, "Serf 2000" -- described as a piece "literally and figuratively enslaved by technology" --into "the more positive 'Electric Personality' to please his AmerenUE sponsors."

Orlando told the P-D, "I had no problem with that; it was still fun."

To bemoan the lack of integrity inherent in the art world is an immature lamentation, perhaps, but the People Project exhibits a degree of cynicism rare even for this town. A gander at Orlando's creation, which stands amid a messy menagerie of forms in Aloe Plaza, across from Union Station, brings up the question of whether Orlando changed anything but the title. The figure is wrapped in electrical cords, a remote bound to the forearm, cell phone in one hand and a lamp in the other, a computer keyboard for a chest, a toaster on one thigh, transistors implanted in thighs and calf, ears covered by earphones, a Zenith minicam stuck to one eye, the back of the torso supplanted by stereo speakers and an industrial exhaust system -- should Orlando be criticized or praised for duping the corporate sponsor into accepting this work (and paying the artist's $1,500 honorarium) as "positive"?

Connie Mielke’s “Summer Daze” is an act of public-art vandalism on unsuspecting O’Fallon, Ill.
Jennifer Silverberg
Connie Mielke’s “Summer Daze” is an act of public-art vandalism on unsuspecting O’Fallon, Ill.

Gauging the value of art is not as tricky as people are led to think. Art that is made to be sold as a product is worth what the buyer is willing to pay for it. It's that simple. After September, when the figures that have survived the wind, rain and humidity are put up for auction -- both to help pay for this abomination and to contribute to charity -- don't expect the big bucks that were generated by Cows on Parade or the Big Pig Gig in Cincinnati. There aren't that many fools who will part with their money in tight-fisted St. Louis. Don't expect those fabled cultural-tourism dollars, either. The family planning a detour to see those people figures on the way to Branson exists only in the boosters' dreams.

What is to be done? The morning after the People Project figures first appeared, Bob Putnam and Sherri Lucas discovered a group of sculptures in front of their soulful bar, the Way Out Club. Lucas says Putnam wondered whether they were "the stepchildren of the People Project."

They are not. The breakdancers in front of the Way Out are the product of local artist Patrick Richey's Rebel People Project. "There was never any company putting its money behind me," Richey says with pride. He didn't need a wooden manikin to make art. A St. Louis native who recently moved back from the Bay Area, Richey talks about the public-art spirit of that region. "In the Mission, in San Francisco, there's a full-on graffiti mural of a girl made out of flames, butt-naked, flying through the air. The People Project wasn't going to have no butt-naked flaming chick flying through Kiener Plaza. It would have been cool." (There is a red, white and blue female people figure in Kiener with firecrackers for hair -- "Freedom" -- hoisted into the air by a pole up her crotch.)

Richey's breakdancers aren't very compelling as sculptures until they're put in the context of a renegade act abutting the deranged status quo. They encourage thought, action.

They mean something.

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