APPLETON – Artist Paul Bobrowitz has watched from his home near Menomonee Falls as the Fox Cities have critiqued and debated the aesthetics and meaning of his sculpture titled “The Collective.”
Detractors say it is ugly, creepy, disgusting, horrifying and belongs in a landfill away from public view.
Supporters say it is delightful, interesting, thought-provoking and should be left where it is along East College Avenue for all to see and experience.
The fuss, frankly, has invigorated Bobrowitz.
“I’m awed and amazed when I listen to what people see in artwork that I’ve created,” he told The Post-Crescent. “Other people see things and feel things that I’ve never considered. It adds to my experience.”
The 68-year-old never anticipated the sculpture would cause such a stir.
“For close to 30 years I’ve been putting sculpture out in similar venues to this, and never have I gotten this much controversy,” he said.
“The Collective” is made from salvaged propane tanks that have been turned into faces that make up a large head. The piece was installed in November on public right of way at the west end of the College Avenue bridge as part of Sculpture Valley’s third season of ACREofART.
The location was approved unanimously by the Common Council, but after the sculpture went up, some residents complained that it isn’t appropriate for the neighborhood. One of the issues is that neither the city nor Sculpture Valley informed the neighborhood that the sculpture was coming.
The city’s Municipal Services Committee now is reconsidering the city’s approval. The committee will continue its deliberations on Jan. 13.
Bobrowitz said his inspiration for the piece came from his belief in the collective unconscious — an inherited part of the unconscious that is common to all people.
“That is what I was thinking of when I was putting all of these individual faces together to make the head, which is the collective,” he said. “That’s us. We are a collective of everything and everybody we’ve ever encountered.”
Bobrowitz questioned whether the opposition to his sculpture would be the same if it were newly or uniformly painted to conceal the salvaged steel. That, though, would mask the meaning behind the piece.
“The idea I’m trying to get across is we get a bunch of different input, and it’s not necessarily all pretty, but that’s what creates the person who we are,” he said.
“The Collective” was one of three pieces that Bobrowitz submitted to Sculpture Valley, a nonprofit arts advocacy group, for consideration for the third season of ACREofART. The others were a stainless steel piece titled “Conversation” and a rusty steel piece titled “You Rock.”
Bobrowitz was surprised when Sculpture Valley selected “The Collective” as the Jury’s Choice, meaning it was the highest ranked of the season’s 55 entries.
“I didn’t really think it was sophisticated enough,” Bobrowitz said. “I thought the stainless steel piece would be selected because it’s more polished.”
Sculptures chosen for ACREofART are funded by sponsors and are not a burden on taxpayers. The pieces stay in place for two years and are made available for purchase after that. The asking price for “The Collective” is $20,000.
The free smartphone app Otocast describes all of the ACREofART sculptures in the Fox Cities. It identifies the title, artist, sponsor and location of each piece and provides a statement by the artist.
Bobrowitz helped install “The Collective” along College Avenue. The first objections from nearby residents came within 15 minutes.
What detractors say
The Post-Crescent asked readers what they thought of “The Collective” and whether they would want the sculpture in their neighborhood.
Residents from Appleton and beyond were quick to respond, often with zingers. Below is a sampling of comments.
- “Ever heard the saying, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig”? Appleton resident Chuck Luehring wrote in an email. “You can dress an ugly statue in the cloak of diversity, and it is still an ugly statue. If that was in my neighborhood, I would petition the city to put a fence up in my yard so I couldn’t see it.”
- Phyllis Dintenfass of Appleton has seen the sculpture only from her car but said it looks “like a pile of dead people from a concentration camp.” She suggested it be moved close to the Trout Museum of Art. “More people walk there,” she said, “so (they) could study it, walk around it and get a better feel for it.”
- “This is the ugliest piece of art I have ever seen,” Joan Vogel of Appleton said. “I couldn’t believe what I saw a few weeks ago. It’s frightening. Please move it elsewhere.”
- “It should not be in a residential area,” Lois Kimball of Grand Chute said. “The landfill would probably be the best place.”
- Diana Mann Rivers of Appleton said she attended the Art Institute of Chicago and has seen a lot of modern sculpture. “When it’s done well, there is nothing better,” she said. “Unfortunately, this metal hunk is just plain ugly, and not in a dark, enigmatic way that could possibly have been attractive, like a black raven or a moonless night. No. This thing is just plain ugly, juvenile and dumb.”
- Lisa Loma of Minneapolis, whose father and brother live in Appleton, said the sculpture is disturbing and frightening to small children. “With so much ugliness and violence in the world that sculpture is out of place. It definitely doesn’t belong on a curve of a very busy thoroughfare.”
- James Van Sambeek of Appleton said the sculpture is a distraction to drivers. “It should be in an art studio so people who like artwork can go look at it,” he said. “It should not be on the busiest public streets forcing people to look at it.”
- “I would not want to look at this head every day out my window,” Carol Bloemer of Grand Chute said. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but my eye is not beholden to this piece.”
- Aaron Wege of Appleton described the sculpture as horrendous. “My apologies to the artist, but I doubt he would want that thing in his front lawn any more than the residents living near it.”
Bobrowitz was unfazed by the criticism. “They’re entitled to their opinion,” he said. “I try to make like a duck and let it roll off my back.”
What supporters say
Don’t think for a second that the sculpture doesn’t have its proponents. Even people who don’t particularly like the look of “The Collective” defend its placement and Sculpture Valley’s mission of bringing art to the masses.
- Anne Bremer of Appleton said the sculpture initially caught her by surprise. “It took me a while to get used to it,” she said. “Today I look forward to its provocative and evocative greeting each time I pass by. It always makes me smile.” Bremer said she hopes the city “will continue to celebrate and welcome all of the many examples of diversity represented in the works of art that make Appleton unique.”
- “We love the design and the thought that must have gone into ‘The Collective,”https://www.postcrescent.com/” said Paula Ulmen of Harrison. “I honestly feel that if those who oppose this piece actually took a few moments to stop and study this piece, they would change their minds on how they feel about it. It immediately won me over upon a little closer inspection.”
- “I live in the neighborhood, and I’m a fan,” Robin Janson said.
- “I support having ‘The Collective’ remain in its current location,” Appleton resident Chris Harvey said. “I pass by the sculpture on a daily basis and enjoy seeing it every time. It is an asset to the neighborhood and lends character to Appleton.”
- Gayle Schultz of Appleton said she would be happy to have the sculpture in her neighborhood. “Hope all of us consider being open to and appreciate modern sculptures in our neighborhoods,” she said. “Art can be thought-provoking, cause us to think and question, maybe even open our eyes to new things. We may not be able to travel to Chicago or other large cities often to visit big art museums, but we can venture out in our own communities to see works of art.”
- “I completely support ‘The Collective,”https://www.postcrescent.com/” Appleton’s Brieanna Ganzel said. “The vision it shows me is how the older generation and younger generation are able to pull together, to become a more prosperous and happy people.”
- Karyn Van Ryzin of Appleton drives by the sculpture several times a week and enjoys seeing it. She doesn’t view it as being in a historic neighborhood but rather on a major thoroughfare. “I think everyone has different taste, and as long as something isn’t vulgar, it should be left in place,” she said.
Read or Share this story: https://www.postcrescent.com/story/news/local/2019/12/20/fuss-over-appletons-big-head-sculpture-invigorates-artist-behind/2669386001/