ArtPrize-related activities last week took a precious few minutes to explain to the throngs of crowds that they were standing in the midst of “Ecliptic,” a famous installation by a famous artist and sculptor of international renown.
The explanation was necessary because city commissioners a few years back had conspired to appease a specific group of individuals and use the internationally acclaimed installation as a site to honor a famous Detroit resident. On a 4-3 vote, they even dared to change the name of the installation area to Rosa Parks Circle. And that was the thanks for what had become an international story about the private-public partnership that made it possible, largely through the Frey Foundation.
It is well past time to revisit this continuing international embarrassment.
The abomination is no less reprehensible now than in 2001 when the city first discussed a terrible idea: to site the locally funded statue of Rosa Parks at the gateway to Maya Lin’s “Ecliptic,” rather than any other city site, or more appropriately at the Gerald R. Ford Museum. In doing so they ignored the artist’s requests and even her appeasement offer to name the site for yet another minority group, the Native Americans who called the river area “Owashtanong.”
During the long public discussions of this action, then-commissioner Rick Tormala made incredibly cruel and unfounded comments about living in a city “where pharaohs of fortune build monuments to themselves.” Lin, in the five years of working on the installation, had been impressed with what she termed the “invention” of the public, private and artistic partnership that funded and assisted the work, and she gave sway. She specifically asked at the beginning of the project that those involved refrain from naming it after anyone in the city. After the commission’s debate, Lin remarked that she has never worked in a city (anywhere in the world) that slaps philanthropy in the face.
The divided commission willfully impugned a world-class work of art as though it were just another street corner. The past two weeks have been especially interesting, in that now-Mayor George Heartwell responded to an ArtPrize artist’s “defacing” of the famed Calder installation.
The Business Journal opined at the time that the ignorance of Maya Lin’s gift was akin to “city leaders thoughtlessly aggrandizing one of the city’s most valued works of art. It is no different than adding a bit of color to the Mona Lisa, or invading the space Alexander Calder carefully calculated among downtown buildings for ‘La Grande Vitesse.’ How dare the city forget its historic roots in art and design? Such a legacy is sought for communities across this land (especially as it is thought to attract talented millennials); the legacy is genuine here. Just a few blocks from this artistic holy place is Ferris State University’s Kendall College of Art & Design, which draws a world community of the young and talented who would comprehend this disgrace. And just next to the Lin installation is the world’s first (gold) LEED-certified art museum, a silent witness to this heresy.”
The Business Journal was criticized in 2001 for its editorial protest of the city commission’s misguided push. It was wrong then and it is wrong now not to correct so egregious an error in judgment. This community’s profound embarrassment is the legacy that continues to be an international affront.