If the definition of good art is something that makes you think, debate and just a wee bit uncomfortable, all at the same time, I'd say Washington did a great job with the three new statues they unveiled at Nationals Park earlier this week.
No, the figures of Washington baseball legends Walter Johnson (above), Josh Gibson (right) and Frank Howard don't look like prototypical sports statues you normally see, but I think that's the point. The statues were ordered by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and it's obvious that sculptor Omri Amrany wanted to put a new spin on the usual tributes located outside stadiums everywhere.
Thus, powerful Walter Johnson is featured with three right arms, Josh Gibson's sweet swing is highlighted with multiple bats frozen at different spots and Frank Howard's strength is portrayed with five massive and outstretched arms. While I still can't decide if these statues will hold up over seasons and seasons of visitors, they're awfully cool to look at and think about. It's an unconventional approach and I applaud it.
"At the unveiling, Amrany said his goal was to use bronze to go beyond the physical so as to capture speed and time, 'the fourth dimension.' Rather than zooming, however, his bronze appears to glop. It has the unfortunate effect of making his players seem covered in tumorous growths. They also get multiple arms. The creature designers from 'Star Trek' have rarely played this fast and loose with bodies ....
"As for the grace and power we expect from significant art, forget about finding it in any of these works. Translated into baseball terms, a team would have to place dead last in the major leagues to rank as low as this work does as art. Come to think of it, these four pieces may count as the ... Nationals of art."
Yeouch. Guess that's the equivalent of a beanball in the art world. Tough crowd.
One critic has a solid point, though. The Lerner family, owner of the Nats, is very into art and is worth over $3 billion. The Lerners will no doubt appreciate this, yet the $700,000 cost of this project was handled by D.C. taxpayers on top of the $611 million they already coughed up for the new ballpark. So, yeah, maybe they could have contributed some cash.
Viewed in a vacuum, though, I still enjoy these statues. Sue me, Mr. Gopnik.