Recently, my wife and I vacationed in Raleigh where we spent an afternoon at the North Carolina Museum of Art. It’s quite an impressive museum with works by Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O’Keeffe, Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore and others.
The museum itself is surrounded by a park with several miles of trails featuring dozens of sculptures and large art installations. They are very impressive. But as I ambled through the park I began to think: Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the artworks and the more mundane, functional facilities on the grounds. They kind of look alike!
So what about you? Can you tell which of the following are photos of art, and which are pictures of the everyday facilities you might find at any park?
For example, is this a photo of a construction site, or a genuine piece of sculpture?
It is a piece of art called Gyre by Thomas Sayre. The work was created in 1999 as “concrete covered with iron oxide, reinforced with steel, mottled with dirt residue from earth casting.” Okay, that one was easy. What about the simple, spare example below. Is it art, or not art?
It’s actually the side of a gate that closes off the footpath to vehicles. So it’s not considered art. How about the next one. Do you know what it is?
It is a work of art, a bicycle rack made in 2005 by Alvin Frega, with wrought iron and steel, as part of the museum’s art-in-service collection. So if this is art, surely the next one must be a piece of art as well. Right?
No, it’s not art. This shiny modern installation is a non-artistic bike rack, made out of aluminum by some anonymous people in a factory. How about the pair below . . . artistic or functional?
Functional. These are regular, usable trash cans, not typically categorized as works of art. So what about the photo below — is it a retaining wall or a mega-sculpture?
This is called Installation 1-183 by Daniel Johnston, a line of 183 ceramic columns that changes “familiar forms into unexpected and awe-inspiring experiences for the viewer.” How about the next one. Could it possibly be an oil derrick, fracking away to power our automobiles?
No. It is called No Fuss, a 32-foot-tall installation by artist Mark di Suvero. The next one is even taller. Does that make it art?
Nope. It’s an ordinary smokestack — apparently left over from the days when this was the site of a prison, and before that a military barracks. Next up: some things that look like street lights. What do you think. Are they street lights, or art?
They are not street lights. They are called Flight Wind Reeds, by Bill and Mary Buchen. The picture below is a street light.
Finally, we have this. Is it a piece of art, or a piece of equipment?
Honestly, we couldn’t figure that out. What do you think?