Dorothy's Tornado by Ron Balser. An inscription reads: "The yellow brick road leads only to your self."
"Electronic prose" by Ronald Davis Balser at Fay Gold Gallery. The granite bench at left is also by Balser. (Images courtesy of the artist and Fay Gold Gallery.)
Appropriating the vocabulary of finance, Ronald Davis Balser calls his new operation Balser Art Ventures. The name suggests, by phonetic similarity, a journey of “adventures.” His sculptures are functional; he makes marble benches engraved with motivational snippets of “fatherly advice.”Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
- The Wizard of Oz
And in the case of the avant-garde, this was provided by an elite among the ruling class of that society from which it assumed itself to be cut off, but to which it has always remained attached by an umbilical cord of gold.
- Clement Greenberg, from “Avant-Garde and Kitsch”
The clean lines and consistent typeset indicate the use of lasers. Although I’ll admit the craftsmanship in works such as See the World has improved, the sculptures are incredibly pedestrian overall. In an attempt at poetic aphorism, the inscriptions assume a surprisingly low level of literacy.GO FORTH! TAKE RISKS!! SEEK TRUTH!!!
You can see a clear example of Ron Balser's electronic marquees on his website. The sample message reads:
Although Ron acknowledges inspiration from Jenny Holzer's famous truisms, he says her work is a little too "negative." Here's one of my favorites by Holzer:Today’s rootstock is tomorrow’s harvest… sow with due care and deliberate haste.
Hoard from the spring vines the blossoms of love & life…
Even pessimist cannot deny possibilities.
Private Property Created Crime by Jenny Holzer. Yes, that is Times Square. This was a project completed in 1985.
Although the term "revolutionary" would be a bad pun, Holzer's work expanded the practical boundaries of public art.1 We all remember Daniel Canogar's Clandestinos... Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Holzer innovated the practice of politicized projections on public buildings and monuments. Plus that installation at the Guggenheim was fabulous. Nothing says "Big Brother" more than 360 degrees of propaganda. I wish I had seen it in person.
Jenny Holzer, Truism Bench.
Surprise surprise. I had no idea Holzer also made benches..! One of these is currently located in Columbus Park in Brooklyn, NY. The message facing us reads:
I suppose I can understand Balser's apprehension. Considering his background, Jenny Holzer's confrontational message is probably wholly incompatible with his worldview. Balser is the founder of Balsor Companies, an insurance consultancy located in Atlanta. His aesthetic training is rather recent, and it shows.IT’S A GIFT TO THE WORLD NOT TO HAVE CHILDREN
NOTHING UPSETS THE BALANCE OF GOOD AND EVIL.
Holzer, on the other hand, is a member of the art circle descending from Second-wave feminism. Although feminists were, and continue to be, women of all colors and beliefs, the bulk of Holzer's truisms intersect with Leftist ideology. "Private Property Created Crime" is a position of historical materialism.
I'll keep my political opinions to myself, but I know I have more than one feminist reader, so I'm curious: Are these ideas dated? How do you separate the question of gender liberation in these works from the question of general liberation?
Compared to Holzer's deliberately subversive aphorisms, Ron's message - in terms of attitude and political subtext - seems like a diametric opposite:
This sculpture, Bill & Bernie's, can be seen at the Georgia Aquarium. It was created in honor of Bernie Marcus, the renowned aquarium mogul and CEO of Home Depot.
Ron Balser, Go Forth 2. This is a copy of the bench placed on the campus of Emory University, located at the Goizueta Business School.
Allow me to use the language of the financial world: if I was an Emory alumnus, this would not inspire me to donate to the Alma Mater. Balser's truisms are, by design, drained of all political content. If you ask me, they read a lot like corporate slogans. An appropriate lawn decor for the American robber baron.
Aesthetically, I find these sculptures boring. However, this is a statement that - by logical extension - I'm willing to make towards Jenny Holzer's bench. Her benches weren't very interesting either. But the physical form isn't what gives her work value. As in her Times Square piece above, her success is due to a combination of her textual content, its spacial placement within the public sphere, and, above all, the professional bravado involved in getting it up there. Balser's benches have no such redeeming qualities.
And then there's the question of originality. Balser's work is an awful lot like that of a well-known, established artist. Although the industry, for some time now, has looked favorably on the practice of mimicry and appropriation, I wonder: do these works qualify as an appropriately "recontextualized" use of someone else's ideas?
I'll leave this to my readers to decide.
I will say that the green sculpture in the middle, See the World, did show promise. The red glow from left glinted on the marble surface as I walked by. The asking price on Balser's website is $90,000... I'm no sculptor and I certainly have little experience with public art. Could someone educate me please?
The two exhibitions, Balser and a photographer named Arno Minnkinen, overlapped in this corner. The experience was surreal. A few people around me were talking about corporate dinners... It reminded me of back when I worked in this building.
1 You can read more about public space and Jenny Holzer here.
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