Outdoor art provokes strong reactions
Artist ordered to take down sculpture
Max Schon kneels below "A is for Anything: A Three-Dimensional Line Study" which is on display at his rented home on West Second Avenue. Schon was ordered to take down the sculpture, which was done by FLC art student Austin Baker, after complaints were lodged over it./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

by Will Sands

A piece of outdoor artwork is drawing a mix of adoration and anger in a Durango neighborhood. For the last two months, a flashy, large sculpture has been hanging on display in the yard of a West Second Avenue home. However, the tenant there received word that the piece, "A is for Anything: A Three-Dimensional Line Study," must be taken down this week.

The sculpture is the work of recent Fort Lewis College graduate Austin Baker, who has since moved to Reno, Nev. Baker completed it as course work at Fort Lewis, where he had it on display for six months. However, when Baker left town, a new home had to be found for the large sculpture. He and friend Max Schon decided to put "A is for Anything" on display at the home Schon rents at 2254 West Second Ave. Using a winch and truck, the 400-pound combination of lightweight steel, angle iron and galvanized sheet metal was hung in the air on the property. It still remained suspended as of press time.

However, Schon's yard is in a curious location, in that it abuts public property on one side and is also in view of several businesses. Baker and Schon thought these factors would make it an ideal home for the sculpture.

"Max and I decided the space behind his rental property was a fine place to display the sculpture because it was a comfortable private venue with public access and exposure," Baker explained.

Schon added, "We had set it up as public art. That was our goal."

Baker explained that the inspiration for "A is for Anything" came from the first letter of his first name and a desire to explore going from two to three dimensions. "There was a requisite in the course to explore monumental sculpture," he said. "It's a self-promotional piece. My name is Austin. In my case, it's 'A is for Austin.' For the viewer, it will be 'A is for Anything.'"

Apparently, the sculpture has meant just about anything to viewers. "Some people find it very sensual, phallic or sexual," Baker said. "I think its monumentality is also very difficult for people. It's large, flashy and draws a lot of attention."

According to Schon, the piece has drawn complaints and as a result he has been asked by his landlord to remove the sculpture from display. "I got a phone call from my landlord and was told that someone had complained and that it needed to come down," he said. "Apparently, the aesthetic offends somebody. I think in some way it conjures some sensual imagery that deeply bothers someone."

Neither Schon, Baker nor the City of Durango are sure who was offended by the piece. The city has received no formal complaints about the sculpture, and Action Property Management, Schon's landlord, neglected to return the Telegraph's phone calls.

"I only know what Max has told me, and they don't seem to be telling Max very much," Baker said. "Safety issues don't seem to be the problem. The issues seem to be aesthetic. I've only been told that some people find it displeasing."

With this in mind, both Schon and Baker said they would hope for more open-mindedness from a community like Durango.

"I'd hoped that people could really understand it for what it is and accept it," Baker continued. "It doesn't fall into conventional aesthetics but it's a very contemporary sculpture. I think it is a strong contribution to the Durango art community, and it is temporary."

Baker and Schon had planned on leaving "A is for Anything" in the yard of the West Second Avenue home through July and dealing with the rigorous breakdown at that time. Then Baker had planned on either relocating the sculpture to Santa Fe or finding a new home for it elsewhere in Durango.

"I think the ideal conclusion would be to let it stay until July, finish its installation period, and then it will be gone," Baker said. "At that point, I'm hoping to take it down to Santa Fe because it's a strong art community that's a little closer than my home in Reno."

Baker said that he is also open to leaving "A is for Anything" in Durango if he can find someone to give the piece a home. "If other people around Durango are interested in hosting it on their property and sharing it with others, I'd like to leave it in Durango."

If neither of those options play out, Baker and Schon have considered another possibility.

"We've also talked about driving it out to the canyons of the Utah desert and putting it up in the middle of nowhere, where it won't offend anyone," Schon said.

However, Baker said that probably won't happen. The recent experience has taught him a valuable lesson about the value of a strong piece of art. "I'm sorry that it's offended some people, but I'm also glad that it's getting a strong reaction," he concluded. "That is what I think makes it so successful." ?




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