A few days ago, Jon Tupper, director of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV), published an opinion piece in Victoria’s local paper, Why Victoria deserves great public art. His article took aim at the latest sculpture unleashed on Victoria: a treacly confection in bronze, The Homecoming, which is supposed to commemorate the Canadian Navy.
The piece is installed at Ship’s Point, a prominent spot on the Inner Harbour, where tourists are likely to stumble upon it. The other day I went to see it for myself – didn’t have a camera on me, but the picture used in the local paper gives an idea of what to expect:
Installed in early May, the statue was apparently a gift from me – and the other “people of Victoria”: it is “our” “gift” to the navy on its 100th birthday. (source)
Not one cloying detail is omitted: the bag at the sailor’s side (whose uniform and physique are both generic yet insistent, as though he’s the maintenance man at the refrigeration plant) is stuffed with thoughtful presents (a teddy bear, etc.); trusty Fido accompanies the child; the sailor’s strong, bare forearms (the left manacled by a wristwatch, a wedding band the size of a small donut emblazoned on that hand’s ring finger) prepare for perpetual embrace; and so on and so forth… It’s not for nothing that they say the devil is in the details.
As Jon Tupper puts it:
The problem I have with this work [The Homecoming] is not only that it is overly sentimental, but that after we look at it once we don’t really have to see it or think about it again because it’s all been done for us. Beyond the sugary subject matter, the handling of the figures would make one question whether today’s artists still have the ability to cast and carve with a high degree of verisimilitude.
It might seem odd to challenge The Homecoming‘s verisimilitude, given its hyper-realism and overt insistence on prescribing the viewer’s emotional response. But take a look at the photo by Bruce Dean (aka Professional Recreationalist on Flickr): Zombie Sailor Comes Home.
Click through on the link and see why that title fits.
Meanwhile, the letters to the editor at the local newspaper have rallied to the work’s defense. People like sentimentality and feel put out that anyone should question that preference. See for example Sentimental art has a key place or The Homecoming evokes deep response.
…The Homecoming is just too cute and kitschy.
I like the sugar rush of something sentimental occasionally, but as a complete cultural diet, it’s lacking fibre and protein. (source)
And Steve Weatherbe, who published a weekly business newspaper until recently, wrote Navy not well-served by The Homecoming:
Jon Tupper’s piece on public art was great (May 23). At last the silence has been broken about the lamentable piece The Homecoming. He is bang on about its sentimentalism.
We all agree with the feelings it intends to depict, but there isn’t much thought there. That is because Canada, after 60 years of high liberalism, no longer knows what to think about the military, or does know but out of political correctness perhaps is afraid to say. (source)
Great cities truly deserve great art — but despite its magnificent natural setting it seems that Victoria just got what most of its people seem to deserve (and crave): Sugary fluff in the form of intellectual cotton candy; the mediocre and the forgettable, both in architecture and in art. (source)
Indeed, our architecture is cut down and back until it “fits in,” meaning it’s bland and boring.
And zombified Disneyland sculpture completes the picture.