Should Art Match Your Sofa?

Wind Sculpture, 2018 by Yinka Shonibare
Wind Sculpture by Yinka Shonibare, an example of a well placed  work of art.

The age old indignation of someone holding a fabric swatch up to a piece of art is something many artists endure.  I was reminded of this lately when rewatching Hannah and Her Sisters when the character Frederick, an artist, becomes outraged when a potential client wants to consult his decorator before buying. So let me pose this question: Don’t we owe it to a piece of artwork to place it in the most beneficial setting?  Let’s talk about this a little more.

Recently, I became aware of several well meaning community based public art projects where artists, often sculptors, are awarded public space to show their work outdoors for a specific period of time.  This is a wonderful benefit to the community and the artists but often not a benefit to the artworks.  A small public park not far from where I currently live has such a program. The artworks chosen are well crafted and have a broad aesthetic appeal but look as though they were unloaded any old place on the green space giving the impression of a yard sale more than an outdoor gallery.

Similar things can occur even in the most professional public sculpture program.  My hometown of Philadelphia has a world class public sculpture collection that takes great pains to place the works.  The problem is as the cityscape changes due to construction or myriad other things that can affect a location, the sculptures may no longer be presented in the best way.  And in a city the size of Philadelphia, the logistics involved in moving a piece of public sculpture to a new location can take years.

Now all the talk so far has been about three dimensional art so let’s talk about two dimensional art.  Let’s face it, when you buy something to perk up your spirits, you are not going to plop it just any old place; you are going to put thought into it.  We do this with furniture, lighting, media, decoration, & family photographs. So who are we kidding when we pretend we are not going to do the same thing with a painting?  I had the fortunate experience of studying at the Barnes Foundation. Dr. Barnes had a very unique way of displaying his collection.  It was if everything on any given wall, when viewed all together, created another whole picture in and of itself.  Symmetry was important, as well as size and shape of the painting but it did not stop there. Even elements withing each painting were considered: color, shapes, lines, etc.  Dr. Barnes’ presentation of his painting collection also broke the rules by including furniture and other objects mixed within the painting display.  These furnishing and objects also had to have elements that enhanced and blended with the paintings.  If you have never been to the Barnes foundation, I urge you to go on their website where there are often photographs of the galleries. The link highlighted takes you directly to their collection but look around the site for photographs of full gallery shots.

Lastly, I will talk about a public sculpture that I think is beautifully placed. The piece is called Wind Sculpture by Yinka Shonibare. Whether you like the piece or not is not really relevant to the points I am going to make so please don’t zone out yet.  This sculpture is

Sculpture placement
Wind Sculpture in a larger view of its setting on the grounds of Davidson College

on the grounds of Davidson College which was founded in 1837. First note that Wind Song is a contemporary piece of art with regard to era, feel, and materials so it works well with one of the college’s newer buildings. Think for a moment what this sculpture might look like if it were in front of a building from the early 20th century.  The organic, curving lines of the piece are a nice contrast to the geometric lines of the building.  The colors of the sculpture are both warm (the browns, oranges, earth tones) and cool (the blues) just like the colors of the building (bricks – warm, glass/chrome – cool).  The ample space around the sculpture allows for it to be viewed at a number of angels.  Basically, it blends just enough to seem a natural part of the environment but stands out just enough to add some interest to the open space.

So maybe it is ok if the painting you buy matches your sofa. And if it doesn’t, that’s ok too but make sure you place it with care.