Borofsky forum was a travesty; we're engaging in the completely wrong debate

Oscar Wilde once said, “No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did he would cease to be an artist.” So when it comes to placing art on campus, it’s clear that the university’s Public Art Committee (PAC) artists need a few other pairs of eyes to help them be objective.

But obviously the PAC — or at least March 8’s public art forum moderator Hilary Robinson — isn’t interested in understanding campus discussion over its art. Toward the end of the forum, which was riddled with squabbling dissention over the impending placement of Jonathan Borofsky’s “Walking to the Sky” sculpture, Robinson got a chorus of “no”s when she asked the audience if they approved of its new site in front of Warner Hall.

Somehow, though, she missed that glaring fact: In a later interview with The Tartan, Robinson claimed she had the audience’s support in sending the PAC’s site proposals to President Cohon.

How Robinson could have possibly construed this consensus from the forum (wherein one professor even passed out copies of a typed rant on why the sculpture couldn’t fit on campus) is beyond us. It evidences, though, the two key problems of how this situation has been handled. First, the University doesn’t see fit to give its students a say in whether pieces like the Borofsky sculpture are placed on campus. Second, considering the increasing campus grumblings against it, students have yet to create a coherent argument for their cause.

Chaired by Robinson, the PAC was recently created to review proposals for permanent installments of art on campus. The PAC is part of the Public Art Policy, a plan to formalize the selection of art, a process that used to be informal. That new policy allows public forums to debate the location of artwork the PAC approves.

Robinson had to constantly remind the audience of the forum’s purpose — to debate the location of the art, not its integrity. After all, the two sculptures have already been approved and will be placed on campus regardless of the forum’s outcome.

Jonathan Borofsky’s “Walking to the Sky” is obtrusive, one participant said, and will surely become a visitor’s first lasting impression of the university. It would be akin to going to a job interview dressed as a chicken, he said. But the discussion began to spiral downward when a second attendee responded in shock that “people don’t know art can’t hurt you.”

Meanwhile, we’re shocked that both dissenters and supporters of the sculpture thought this type of discourse would help.

The discussion then degenerated into a debate between those who claimed they represented the scientifically minded camp of Carnegie Mellon — which doesn’t feel the art represents the university — and the campus artists who retorted with the elitist motto, “You just don’t get it.”

Then, like children arguing over whom their parents love more, the two groups used art to bicker over their presence on campus. The university doesn’t appreciate art, according to members of CFA; but according to more “scientific” minds, CFA is using public art to impose itself on the rest of campus.

An open forum to discuss the imminent installation of two sculptures is neither the time nor the place to engage in an inter-college skirmish. If campus members want their voices heard, they need to recognize the proper context for doing so and take advantage of the opportunities they have for expression.