Mediocre statue sparks angry protest
The Kansas City Star
So I went out to the Overland Park Arboretum to see what the uproar was about.
“Where’s the statute?” I asked a worker near the entrance.
“Follow the asphalt trail,” he replied. “It’s on the far side of the loop.”
He didn’t have to ask which statue.
Its name is “Accept or Reject” — a headless bronze with a disjointed figure, nearly nude with an open blouse exposing ample breasts. In an outstretched hand she holds a camera and seems to be snapping a pic of the space where her head should be.
I had seen pictures, but viewing it on site was a bit of a letdown. This was the sculpture that provoked a petition drive to convene a grand jury and investigate an obscenity charge?
The protest began after Joanne Hughes of Stilwell demanded that the sculpture be moved to a more appropriate place. The city refused, she teamed up with the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association, and the petition drive began.
Kansas may be one of a half-dozen states where grand juries can be summoned by petition, but opponents have a heavy burden. Courts have always had a tough time defining obscenity, and by my lights “Accept or Reject” doesn’t come close, although I can understand the concern of some parents, given the graphic depiction of the breasts.
Yet in one respect, the statue seems unworthy of the fuss. It may be art, but in my humble opinion it’s art of a mediocre sort.
“Accept or Reject” was created by the Chinese artist Yu Chang, who says it “offers a cautionary warning” for women inclined to take pictures only of parts of themselves, according to an accompanying leaflet. The statue depicts a woman who fails to concentrate on “her whole self,” and only “presents pieces for the world to see.”
Another Yu Chang sculpture further up the trail depicts two smiling children with keys around their necks. The leaflet explains that many Chinese parents worked long hours and weren’t home to see their children to and from school.
I found mention of a third Yu Chang piece at artinfo.com.
This one was a headless, legless, figure in a wheelchair, tossing a discus. Yu Chang was quoted as saying it represented “the feeling of young people nowadays to struggle in conflict, disappointment and solitude.”
Get the picture? What we have here are representations of the newspaper sob story or didactic article — material that belongs less in the realm of enduring art than in the transitory world of social commentary.
In an earlier blog post, I wrote that “Accept or Reject” would probably be at home in a museum of contemporary art. But I doubt now it would make the cut. Subtlety and depth are not its strong points.
It also seemed out of keeping with the mood of an aboretum.
Human time is linear and demanding — one event after another, none quite the same. But nature’s time is cyclical and restorative. The leaf on the tree is the same leaf that was there last year — not literally, but that’s how it seems and why we see nature as a refuge from the insistent commotion of human time. Nature’s message is that one need not hurry, all is bound up in the eternal cycle.
“Accept or Reject” destroys nature’s spell and evokes the disruptive concerns of the digital world.
Yet alone in its small clearing, the statue seemed a bit lost, a pale spark for an angry protest. In branding this mediocre work an intolerable affront to public morals, opponents might consider that their reaction is a tad out of proportion.
To reach E. Thomas McClanahan, call 861-234-4480 or send email to email@example.com.