July 18, 2016 | Alyson Stanfield

Should My Hometown Deaccession Public Sculpture of Lesser Quality? (Curious Monday)

There's an art controversy in my sleepy little hometown of Golden, Colorado.

Six bronze sculptures have been recommended for deaccession from the City's collection. The reasoning:

  • They were mass produced in China.
  • They are judged to be of lesser quality.
  • They are signed by “fake” artists. No one can find any artists with these names.
Eddie At Bat - Sculpture in Golden, Colorado Brother and Sister at the Rodeo - Sculpture in Golden, Colorado Bear and Two Cubs - Sculpture in Golden, Colorado Two Deer - Sculpture in Golden, Colorado Kids Sledding - Sculpture in Golden, Colorado

And, yet, many people love these pieces. You can see five of the six above – just click to enlarge.

I'm curious about what you think.

Is it okay to let these sculptures stay and let most of the public think they are valuable, important artworks?

If they stay, should they be displayed differently?

Is any of this important? Or is it more important that people just enjoy these?

I have many other questions on this topic, but let's start with those.

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51 comments add a comment
  • Assuming they aren’t inappropriate (racist, sexist, etc) and people enjoy them – let them stay. And then encourage the city to develop better guidelines for purchase of future public art

  • Same as identity theft, they should go.

  • I think they should go. It feels like rewarding art fraud my having them remain.

  • Just because the names cannot be found doesn’t mean the artists are fake. We all know that China mass produces famous artists’ work all the time. The artists who do this are artists in their own right doing some of their own original artwork. Of course, we may never see that work.

    But, if they are poor quality and the city has the resources to replace with local known original art, then I say decommission them in favor of celebrating works created by artists who need to work.

  • I’m curious. Who discovered that these were mass produced? Why wasn’t this known when the pieces were purchased? Wouldn’t the sculptures look even better as they weather the seasons? Why should they need more upkeep? How long have they been in place? Are they a danger to little children or animals? Do the pigeons love to sit and do what pigeons do on the sculptures? I may be in the minority, however, I don’t see a problem with them staying in place. But if I lived in Golden, I wouldn’t bother to attend any meeting that would have a discussion about the statues. I’d probably be laughing at inappropriate moments. I just think it is somewhat comical in its entirety. I mean, really, how many people really LOOK at signatures on these sculptures? I read the newspaper article and am still wondering if this is as serious as the city planners think it is. There are probably more important things to do. Also, I’m betting the person(s) who decided to purchase these sculptures are red-in-the-face right about now.

  • I come down on the side of “people enjoy them – let them stay.”

    This isn’t a case of art fraud in the most commonly understood sense of the word which is art that is marketed ‘as’ the work of a well-known artist… and even if the names are fake (and they may not be; they may simply be the names of the people who made them but who are not ‘real’ artists… but what does that really mean???) And, as clearly demonstrated by history, there are people who have liked these pieces, thy have ‘history’ where – and as – they are, they are parts of the memories of the folk who have lived around them, grew up with them, maybe even took their pictures with them. If they are not ‘art’ per se, they are certainly local treasures and, I feel, should be respected as such.

  • On a question like this, I can see both sides. The public enjoys them, so why not leave them?
    On the other hand, leaving them could be seen as tolerating art fraud, which as an artist, I find reprehensible.

    Why not leave them for now, while the city develops better guidelines for future public art purchases. Then, once the guidelines are in place, begin replacing the statues with work of value by real artists.

  • I think they should go. If a major museum found out that one of its paintings was fake, they would remove it. You don’t want the city to get a reputation for allowing this kind of thing. If I were a local sculptor, Especially one who may have applied for this public art opportunity, I would be angry and heartbroken. I would feel betrayed. I also would not have a high opinion of the City.

    The City needs to do the right thing to protect its image as an art friendly town.

  • What a silly concern for the City of Golden. As far as the city is concerned, perhaps having paid more money than they should have, “buyer beware”: do due diligence. If they were fraudulently represented, then the City may have a cause of action, legally. Otherwise, perhaps don’t list them in the Art In Public Spaces Tour brochure, or list them with a disclaimer perhaps, but for pity’s sake, unless they are a nuisance, don’t remove them!

  • I am curious how they got there in the first place. Who is responsible for them being purchased and placed? Where were they purchased from and when? It is kind of laughable and embarrassing. Golden is known for its art and there are marvelous CO artists who would gladly replace these.

  • I agree with Patti and Victoria.

  • I side with Victoria’s well reasoned response. I also agree that the city needs to develop standards for what they’re willing to pay for.

  • This situation is like buying a designer purse only to learn later that it’s fake. It’s the same purse, yet a little different. Would you throw it away even though you still loved it? Donate it to the Goodwill? Still use it but take off the fake tag? Use it as is but feel differently? Tell your friends what happened? My husband sees this in his aerospace industry: fake Chinese airplane parts. In this case, the repercussions are significantly more serious: compromised integrity of an aircraft. For Golden’s statues, it won’t physically harm anyone to leave the statues where they are. But perhaps replacing the current artists’ name plaques with ones that state the situation and raise these types of questions for discussion will start an important dialogue for all on integrity in art and our broader world.

  • Judy

    I’m always looking for a win win solution so I would suggest putting them up for auction, making certain that folks know why, and raise money for their replacements. That way those who really like them have the opportunity to own them. Of course as long as their poorer quality doesn’t endanger anyone. If the poor quality is a danger then they should be removed and destroyed anyway.

  • Michael

    They are public art, not in a museum. They have been serving their function well, so the quality is adequate; and the public never cared about the artist’s name. One unknown name is as good as another, so no need to rename it. This is trivial. Go have a Coors.

  • emily johnston

    Town sculptures are not major serious art acquisitions, its not meant to be serious art, not with the subject matter of cowboys, small children playing baseball, deer, etc. The town of golden here is catering to tourists , happiness, and a general common denominator of enjoyment. I agree with others posted earlier, it would be ridiculous to pretend this is somehow lesser art, because it is lesser art in many ways, however, in the setting, in the context it WORKS and peopke like it. So chill, and leave it be….! :)

  • I believe that this is just one of the major problems artists are facing within this country. It appears that sadly, we have become a society and a nation that wants to purchase “on the cheap”, so art which is “less expensive”, is purchased as a result. Usually this “art” is of lesser quality and not authentic…..and sometimes even stolen from U.S. artisans. I personally believe that if a state wishes to be supportive of the arts, their local and/or national artisans should always be considered first within this choice. Unless artisans in this country are supported financially and respected as professional people, how can those within a purchasing capability expect creative people to wish to continue creating? Artists in this country are very disrespected and sadly, because of the horrific title of “starving artists”, we are not always considered because most of us, are not willing to work for pennies. I believe in supporting artists within the U.S.A…….and if that offends some folks, then don’t expect artists who live here to be willing to create great works of art in the future……because unless this profession is financially supported, many will just give up and eventually stop creating great works of art! That would be a terrible shame for this great country of ours!

    • Gloria you have touched on all the very serious and sensitive issues regarding art made in China on the cheap. Too many will say no harm no foul but there are regional artists whose work should be there instead. Our home town was gifted with these atrocious teddy bears from an art patron who upon delivery to his estate did not want them on his own property and they are pretty awful . Personally I would Edward Abby them and roll them into the lake but the town would rescue them. It is not right that regional artists are not used but worse is the fact that Chinese artists are in factory situations and not making money from these “purchases”. I say get rid of them.

  • If people like them, leave them be. Perhaps add a plaque sharing the story.

    It reminds me of when persons unknown tried to blow up the Cleveland Museum’s copy of Rodin’s The Thinker in 1970. They tied dynamite to the base managing to damage the feet and knock that statue over. They could have recast or repaired it. Instead, they took the brave stand to keep it in it’s new damaged state because of the piece’s connection to the original artist, as a commentary on the political unrest of the time, because they felt it said something about the permanence of art in a harsh world. A plaque was added to share the story.

  • Jim Finley

    I would vote to have them remain, possibly at a different location if the current location is known to be for original art only — and have them identified for what they are.

  • These sculptures were purchased to be enjoyed, touched, sat on etc. You would not want sculptures of any consequence for that purpose. As long as the public is informed of the provenance of the pieces and they enjoy them, let them stay. If that is not possible, auction them off to raise money for new sculptures.

  • Marjorie Wood Hamlin

    Absolutely get rid of them.
    If fake or forged paintings are discovered in a prestigious museum, they are immediately removed.
    China manufacturers make a lot of fakes and reproductions that are passed off as originals. Those in charge of purchasing in the city should have done better research. There are domestic artists that make these types of
    sculptures for outdoors. Admit the mistake and get new ones that the public will also love.
    Better to support American artists than buy fakes from China.

  • Gail Folsom Jennings

    They could put them together in an area that’s not so prominently in the public eye, acknowledge them for what they are and make them “interactive,” allow them to be touched and even played on if it’s safe to do so.

  • Marjorie Hill

    Building on Gail’s comment, and considering the backstory, it seems that the city could set them up in an area of one of the municipal “boneyards” where other junk is kept, along with a plaque explaining the facts surrounding them and directing visitors to other areas in the city with public art made by local artists. People would be free to visit the sculptures and even take photos with them if they wanted. It may help raise awareness of the sad facts of Chinese art factories, and help people learn more about the efforts of local artists.

  • I have to agree with Patty. If people are enjoying them who are we to say they aren’t art and must be removed. Art is to be enjoyed…I have seen what I would call non-art that was actually by an artist and didn’t enjoy it at all. I don’t like the fact that the city was taken and agree that better guidelines and an experienced person should be on the board to assist them in getting what they are paying for.

  • Wow interesting! I think they should be grouped together or at least have a sign put up telling the story. It would bring more awareness to the fraudulent artwork business. They seem to be well done and if people are enjoying them, it doesn’t make sense to remove them. Maybe get an original and put them side by side telling the history.

  • I agree they should stay since people are enjoying them. I also agree that the city needs to have a better standard for their acquisitions.

  • I have read only a few of these…
    I thought I saw a grand sculpture in the main courtyard of a place I visited.
    Most who saw it took it as the original artists work. But it was a fake, a copy
    not by the original “famous artist” and certainly not worth as much. So should the fake David be removed? Michelangelo did not do the dang thing! As to the hometown pieces,
    just because they are mass produced, originally as with all castings from a forge an artist
    did the originals pieces… the forge cast them not the original artist, a curator from your town got them in the first place and people enjoy looking at them. Leave them and commission new additional works by local artists. Honor what has been done and what is to come.

  • Michael

    This is OT, but Hays KS has 20 sculptures by local artist Pete “Fritz” Felten, if you’re in the area.

  • What I would like to know is what moron commissioned these from China in the first place? They should definitely be removed because not only is it not actual art but manufactured molds, they are most likely blatant ripoffs of some poor sculptor somewhere. This is the typical Chinese m.o: steal an American artist’s own creation, mass produce it in Cina and sell it back to the suckers in the U.S.

    If they have to stay maybe a local street artist can embellish the pieces by spraying “MADE IN CHINA” on them. The person who bought these should be fired.

  • I agree that the city has a mandate to help support the arts and local artists, especially when using tax dollars to purchase art. Once it becomes OK to substitute art with mass produced pieces, it will remained acceptable to buy cheap substitutes and further hurt local artists.

    However, I don’t think it is necessary to remove the sculptures altogether. Surely there are other locations where the art could be placed and enjoyed by everyone, simply as a production sculpture. Donating them to various schools within the school system, would not only delight the children, but hopefully encourage them to further enjoy art of all kinds.

  • Margit

    In my opinion the pieces should be sold in an auction and the money could be used to purchase sculptures from artists selected by a panel of experts. In addition the person/group who selected these pieces should be made responsible!

  • Additionally I want to add,
    Mass produced art seen along the roadside, the “Starving Artists Sale”, well
    those render an average uneducated art buyer into a state where they think our one of a kind single produced paintings are too expensive. That makes US artists into starving artists. Case in point a local butcher wanted a mural in his market for $50. He cited the cost of art sold along the road. Well sorry the paint and gas to get there are about half that. I managed to sell 6 square feet for the cost of six mass produced “starving” paintings or $300. ,WOW that is expensive considering there are a lot of flowers on a cherry tree… well yes so get real!
    Mass produced art with 10000 pieces on the wall and a hundred walking artists diligently painting their parts… no I do not like that. Not at all!

  • Deb

    Let them stay and continue to be enjoyed – taking them away might result in “two black eyes”. The city’s time/money would be better spent setting new selection standards and procedures for future quality purchases.

  • If they are unsafe, remove them and perhaps auction them off to support the purchase of replacement art for those locations, this time choosing verifiable original art which meets the guidelines which should be developed for same.

    If the sculptures are not unsafe, and people really enjoy them, either leave them in place or move them to another suitable place, replacing them with original art as mentioned above, and in either case change the signage for these pieces to more accurately describe the situation and open a dialogue about what art really is/means.

    The committee and the other powers that be in the city have their work cut out for them regarding guidelines for future purchases and such, and the public meetings and so forth triggered by this controversy should help to guide them in their approach. It would be nice to make it a point to support the work of local artists.

    I am a calligrapher specializing in weddings and proclamations and the like, so I may be different from many artists because in my line of work, usefulness is often at least as important as artistic quality. I particularly love using lots of flourishes and dressing up my lettering, but often clients prefer a cleaner look so that it is more legible, meaning that their guests will actually receive their invitations instead of having the post office lose them because they can’t read the address in the midst of all the curlicues. Because of this, I always have to consider the practical side of the end results of my work, and I’m applying that same standard here.

    To wit: No, it’s certainly not right to reward people who are making “fake” art and thereby possibly taking/withholding money from those creating original art. I don’t like it any more than the next artist when a client chooses to go with something mass-produced (a font, in my case) because it’s cheaper instead of hiring me to do original work, and I spend a lot of my time educating the public about the value of calligraphy in general. _However_, in the case covered by this article, it sounds as though the decision was made due to a lack of knowledge/education/research, not greed or malice, and they will certainly know better next time. If there was misrepresentation or fraud involved in the purchase of these sculptures, then the city lawyers will have a grand time throwing the book at the culpable parties, and if so, I hope they acquire lots of funds for the city to spend buying local and truly original art.

    In the meantime, if many people love the sculptures, give the public the opportunity to continue to enjoy them, as described in my second paragraph, above. I can go blue in the face explaining to clients the correct etiquette for addressing Grandma on a formal invitation, but if they insist that she will feel insulted if they do it that way, I address it the way they request. I am a huge believer in correct etiquette, but in the end, relationships are more important than etiquette. Sometimes the practical has to take precedence over the purest philosophical reasoning.

  • Seems to me city council should start a fund to purchase new original sculpture from local artists, not to replace the fraudulant art but to honor and support local and regional artists of the Golden community. Then leave the fraudulant art with a sign telling the story.

  • Corinne McNamara

    I like the auction ideas described above –if someone in the community wants them, they can buy them for their own private property. I think the community should know how much tax money was used to buy foreign-made art without provenance or worth. If the city wants art for public places, they should support the work of regional or local artists, not just buy something that looks local.

  • Jeff Duke

    This is tough! If they are loved by the public, and they are not copies, let them stay with proper signage. I’m with others, how were they purchased without looking into their origin? Safeguards need to be in place to see that this is a one time thing.

  • It sounds like someone was embarrassed… Art is in the eye of the beholder.

    I think it is kitchey that they are mass produced and enjoyed by the masses.

    Don’t fret about the signature of a make-believe artist. Why? Again l think it is hilarious and novel—
    A novelty item worth collecting just for the conversation.

    I have a sculpture mass produced. Honestly, the sculpture is so sweet …
    A young boy and girl sitting on a bench almost kissing.

    I also have a young Buddhist monk sculpture lying on the floor, huge beautiful smile, head in hands looking up. Pure joy. I bought it on sale at PierOne. It brings me joy– especially when he dons his red beret.

    I have two pieces of art: a porcelain sculpture of a Chinese Calligrapher and a New Orleans watercolor artist;
    Both survived Hurticane Katrina in a house that withstood 26 feet of tidal surge. I love them both, they represent survival. Recently I was able to decipher the name of the water colorist and the painting is fairly valuable. I love it because my mother purchased it on her own without my father. She felt proud and confident. It is iconic to me.

    Art should bring joy not raised eyebrows and explanations of the significance of the piece.

  • AnnaMaria Windisch-Hunt

    Chances are they were by artists who just did not reach fame. The hot shop in China took advantage and reproduced more than permitted once they had the cast. Move them to a children’s area allow kids to absorbe culture subliminally. Next purchase, trust in experts or your art board.

  • Wow, what a great conversation. My opinion is colored by having worked 20 years in an art museum, being involved with a local public art organization, and working as an artist.

    First I am glad the city commission is not rushing into a decision.

    Second I think the situation is a great educational opportunity. In the short run, news stories, plaques near the sculpture, and public forums all to explain and discuss the situation, copyright issues, ideas about authenticity, integrity… editions vs reproductions…the value of art and artists.

    But, lastly, if these sculptures turn out to really be unauthorized-mass-reproductions (regardless of where they were made) I have to agree with removing them from the city’s public collection. Either use them as educational items, or auction them off and use any proceeds for new acquisitions based on well thought out criteria. Because I do think keeping them as part of the collection would degrade perception of the collection and the legitimate works by legitimate artists.

  • Michael

    The town should commission a local artist to do a sculpture of someone on a laptop by a chinese sculpture writing a blog post about it ; or put a “higher quality” sculpture next to it. Think: What Would Wei Wei Do?

  • Susan Troy

    What a lively conversation!

    I think keeping loved art (even copies) somewhere would be good. But I think there should definitely be a disclaimer that these are not original art works by local artists.

    And I also think that the people who select public art in the future should be more careful in their selection process. Work that is loved should either be kept. Original or not, inspiring love and joy is no loss.

  • My first thought was how could this have happened in the first place? Was someone looking to cut corners? Was someone owed a favor? or is it just incompetence?
    I like the auction idea. But if they were to stay, I’d be for labeling them with their story. Though I’d bet that if their story was better known, the public would like them less. Why not just put them in a kids playground where they’d just be fun things to look at and climb on instead of being expected to be respected art.

  • Bill

    If they are good work AND people like them, they should be kept. It would do no harm to have small plaques with the specifics of the fake names, just for veracity sake. If they are rip offs or copies, trash them. (You have to wonder what local administrations are up to if they have not terribly knowledgeable functionaries dropping a lot of public money on sculptures.

  • So many great points made here! I’m of the inclination that these sculptures are pleasant additions to public spaces, that most people can relate to, and I have a great belief that public art is extremely valuable. The ‘massed produced in China’ part is a problem, no doubt. But could the city use this experience as an opportunity to educate and inform? Leave these sculptures, with the addition of new plaques, and information with the story; and perhaps directing viewers to one off pieces created by local artists.
    And yes, the public art acquisition policy needs attention!!

  • I recently ordered a t-shirt adv’ed on FB. Cute little airstream logo with the words “life is good” on it. Hit order (2) before carefully researching. Checked on company and discovered printer was in China and supplier sent them a knock off the real deal. Shirt is of obvious inferior quality and not the “real” Life is Good company. I feel dirty wearing it. Should I trash it!? It’s cute (itchy but cute) but an obvious copyright theft. On behalf of graphic designers everywhere what should I do? Similar dilemma.

    • Michael

      If you agree that the Golden sculptures should have a clarifying plaque, you can make a button to wear with your shirt that says its a knockoff.

  • Michael, I like your replies.

  • M.L. Richardson

    Thank you for recognizing the importance of fraudulent art. I recently sent this email to the Mayor of the City of Golden and a few others, including some City Council members and members of the Golden Art Commission. I will share my email with you as I feel very strongly about this:
    “I was recently made aware of this web site created by several artists listed on the left side of the home page. Given the issue that our City of Golden is currently facing, namely, what to do about the many bronze sculptures which are copies of the original artist’s work (“knock offs”), I am passing this along to you to read. How disheartening it must be, as an artist, to see your beautiful work poorly copied and sold as if it was yours!

    I hope that the decision makers in Golden will do what is right with regard to the bronze sculptures in our town which are not original and have them removed and replaced with original art. Leaving the art as placed and knowing that it is an illegal copy of the original sends the wrong message about the great City in which we live.

    Thank you for listening. Please check this out: http://www.bronzecopyright.com/

    M.L.

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