Is it art?
And have I just met the most dedicated art lover in the world?
I don’t have a dog, but I like them. The walking, the grappling, the licking, the carrying – all OK by me. I’ve known some fine animals. For example Badger – the late great Badger – in the picture. He was a mischievous scallywag who grew into a sage stalwart.
But dogs need space. So why would you bring a dog into your life if you lived halfway up a skyscraper in a forest of other skyscrapers? Especially when outside your front door, the few trees and small patches of earth are signposted like on the right.
Isn’t that crazy? In some English cities trees are damaged or destroyed as the owners of pit bull type dogs encourage their mutts to hone their ripping and biting skills on the bark of saplings. But since when did dogs cocking their legs harm trees? (I’m ignoring this link.) What do these tree guardians expect poor pooches to do? Cross their legs? Use a toilet? Or head for the nearest lamppost or fire hydrant? Bad idea. They can kill lampposts. And think of the poor firefighters having to fumble around hydrant attachments in a mist of evaporating dog wee.
So they expect dogs not to do what comes naturally. They’ll be demanding they make friends with cats next – like Freddie de la Hay (left), the Pimlico terrier from Alexander McCall Smith‘s Corduroy Mansions. But at the same time these “dog needers” (seems more accurate than “dog lovers”) venerate them in unexpected ways.
Where else would you find a shop specialising in pet portraits. That’s all they do. Paint – not even photograph – they paint portraits of your pet. And there seems to be sufficient demand for the proprietors to afford a storefront rent in Manhattan. I imagine the dogs in the pictures have strangely tortured expressions – cross-eyed from holding it in.
Which brings me to question two. Is it art? Not the pet pics.
So. Art or not?
Here are four tests.
1. Germaine Greer‘s “Now please pay attention everybody. I’m about to tell you what art is” test. Think it passes.
2. The Ad Reinhardt test. He said “Art is art and everything else is everything else.” Again, yes.
3. The “official” test? Who cares? Though in fact, as Empire is being exhibited by New York’s Public Art Fund, it clearly counts as far as they’re concerned.
4. The “who cares what they think, what about me?” test. Yes. And it was the occasion of an oddly poignant encounter.
As I walked between the legs? Fingers? Talons? I met a handsome young man who may just be the world’s most dedicated art lover. He had a bucket of soapy water and was wiping down the lower parts of the sculpture. Washing it.
Bit odd, I thought. Especially given it was raining. And I couldn’t see any obvious graffiti. I asked him what he was up to – some baffling performance art perhaps. No. He was employed by the Public Art Fund and was just keeping the sculpture looking good. We were standing near busy roads. Exhaust fumes. Pedestrian traffic. Etc. (This in a city so much cleaner with air so much fresher than in years gone by.)
I looked at him. He looked at me.
I knew I should just leave it at that. So I did. Sometimes it doesn’t help to be explicit.
But I was thinking…
Just imagine what was in his mind when he applied to work at the Public Art Fund. What joy to be living and breathing great art. Maybe he didn’t have sufficient artistic ability himself, or the confidence to try, but he was determined to be part of it all nonetheless. Or maybe he was secretly an artist himself, and saw this as a way to get on in that world. Either way, he was going to be working with big names and with big public artistic statements.
Which is how he found himself in his latest role – the dog wee art wipe man. Playing a vital role in preserving public art for the masses. Wiping down the stripey legs of Eva Rothschild’s Empire after the canines of New York have left their comments.
Ah well, the poor things. They’ve nowhere else to “go”. And surely this makes him – the dog wee art wipe man – the most dedicated art lover in the world?