Tag Archives: East Van cross

Art: To Offend or Not

This last week in Vancouver a mysterious life-size statue appeared. It’s not far from my place but I missed seeing it. Let me first describe the area. Clark Dr. is the truck route in and out of Vancouver. If you’re coming over the border from the US it’s one of the routes that lead you into the city on the east side. Clark and 4th Ave. are a juncture with a major road going west into the city. The SkyTrain station tracks go over the top and a college campus is nearby.

East Van cross, Ken Lum, red devil statue, public art, art statements

The East Van cross sits at Clark Dr. and 6th Ave. Photo credit: vancouverisawesome.com

Riding high above the tracks is the East Van cross by artist Ken Lum. I’ve already written about my opinion of this cross in Ho Hum, Ken Lum. At night it glows white against the evening sky. Overall this is a blue-collar, industrial area filled mostly with cars zooming by. People don’t linger here. There are no coffee shops or funky places in which to hang. There’s an autobody shop, an auto glass shop, a few warehouses. Nothing special. So I suppose every piece of art adds something to a dreary commuter route.

Now, this other statue I mentioned wasn’t commissioned by the city or through some high-end artist. In fact it’s very much like the graffiti that adorns the walls near by. It was made and placed by the unknown artists who feel a need to make a comment or change the streets of our city.

red devil statue, East Van, Clark Drive, Angelo Branca

The area where Christopher Columbus and a red devil once rested. Photo credit: http://www.allele.com

The area where the statue was erected has had a bare podium for years. It supposedly once held a statue of Christopher Columbus to honor Angelo Branca, a prominent Italian-Canadian judge who had once been a middleweight boxing champion. East Van has Vancouver’s largest Italian population. Around 2000, that stature disappeared and ended up in Hastings Park, supposedly rescued from a bad location. And it is a bad location. People don’t go to this area for a picnic, while I’m sure drug addicts do go there. So this odd, Stonehenge-like park was empty for years.

red devil statue, naked devil, East Van, guerilla art, East Van cross

The devil is in the details.

No one knows who erected the statue or when, but a life-size red devil appeared in the last few weeks. It was very red, very identifiable as the classic red Satan and was wearing nothing but a very large erect penis. Suddenly, this unknown un-park (which I remember with the Christopher Columbus statue and barren for years) was a place of pilgrimage. Tourists and locals came by to take pictures and view the goods. From the SkyTrain, if anyone wasn’t looking down at their phones, they probably got a good view of the lil devil.

Was it just a prank, an idol placed by Satanists, guerrilla art? I think it was much more than that and a statement. I’d already stated that to place a piece of blatantly religious art such as the East Van cross, whether hearkening back to early neon art history or East Van heritage or not, was offensive in its own way when we live in a much more multicultural and multi-religious world. But if we take in this somewhat cliché, a bit tacky, definitely bawdy sculpture of a devil, we have a piece that could also be considered offensive.

red devil statue, East Van, Christian symbolism

The cross overlooks the devil, a piece of art that completes a set in Christian iconography. Pic from gangsters out blog.

Perhaps the unknown artists wanted to show that what is offensive to one may not be to another. And when you look at it in another light, these two pieces of art actually complement each other. Yes, they do. They are both Christian iconography. The devil’s right hand is making a devil horns symbol but it is also pointing up…to the cross that stands above and to his right. Salvation and damnation; what could be more Christian and recognizably so? To me, having the devil standing there actually made the cross less offensive and kind of balanced the piece with more depth about a particular religion and its recognizable symbols. However, the city didn’t see it that way and took it down.

While I never liked the cross, I do believe certain types of art are meant to provoke thought and discussion. The devil brought that out and truly lived up to the reputation of a devil; he sowed unrest, disturbed the piece, was ribald and drew attention. Here’s to the unseen artists who thought to complete Ken Lum’s sentence.

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Art Review: Ken Lum Ho Hum

On the weekend I went to the Vancouver Art Gallery and looked at different shows, including Ken Lum’s art. Even back when I attended art college I had a hard time believing that anything tossed anywhere (such as the cow patties in the foyer) were actually art. Maybe they were political or social commentaries but were they art? It’s one of the great debates and I know there is such over Lum’s work. Perhaps by that fact alone he’s a great artist. But, I don’t get it.

Ken Lum's sign art

Lum is known, I guess, for his sign art. My friend said she could have easily been driving down Kingsway looking at the car shops and fast food joints and little shops that festoon that strip. Except these have a “but…” afterward with a political statement or a social one. When I drive down to Oregon on the east side of the I5 highway there is a giant billboard owned by some Republican who usually leaves a right-wing (half nonsensical) message. I guess that’s art  too. The example to the left made up about a third of Lum’s show. Sleak…signs…with not what I’d call a super witty revelation on any of them. I will give that one or two of them I thought were funny.

This might have been the most interesting of the ones I saw...

Another of his series were large boards again with a person pictured on one side and a phrase often repeated on the other. Such as the one of a woman with a French phrase book that went something like this: Je/Je suis/Je suis Canadienne/Je suis Americaine/Je suis Francais/Je/Je suis…etc. The pictures aren’t beautiful and they’re not even really ugly. They’re not stunningly executed in the way photography can be showing the real ugliness or beauty of the world. They’re of the street and could have been snapped by anyone. If Lum wants to show the banality of life, he’s succeeded. I was left with this expression: meh. It made me want to take two weeks off, get some paint and posters and pictures and slap stuff together and see if I can have a show in the VAG as well. I mean, sometimes the difference between successful art and that which isn’t has nothing to do with quality. It depends on whether someone in “the know”–a curator, a rich collector, an art faddist decides something is good.

There were a few couches and sofa beds pushed together and piled high, or enclosed so that they were inaccessible to be sat upon. This is part of Lum’s statement and while I could understand it I’m not sure three made more of a point. From a strictly sculptural point of view I didn’t mind them. Oh and we touched the red circular couch. Gasp! Right away a guard was telling us not to touch because gosh, couches shouldn’t be touched. And after the couch has made its round, well it’ll probably be in someone’s private collection or a secondhand store.

Lum might be known best in Vancouver for the giant neon white cross that looms over East Van like a doomsday device. Horizontally, the letters spell Van, vertically, East. It is either East Van or Van East and supposedly hearkens back to that East Van pride days of your when gangs of young Italian Catholic men roamed the streets. This romanticism and fake geographic pride drives me nuts. I live in East Van and today, not 50 years ago is where we are where there is a multi ethnic, multi religious (or none) community. I don’t feel I should be dominated by a huge Christian symbol and if Lum really wanted to make a statement about East Van he should have put a yellow neon sickle moon, next to a green pentacle, next to some agnostic sign. Regaling in some symbol supposedly used by gangs before all the other ethnic gangs moved in (not that there are that many) seems absurd at best. It certainly seems like an ignorant erection in a time of many other religious beliefs being practiced. But if Lum wanted to evoke conversation and feelings, he succeeded. However, to do so in such an obtrusively permanent way is galling.

The one other piece in the gallery was a large glass maze, done in triangles. As you walked through it etched statements would show in the glass. These had to do with self-worth and image. As a fractured personality and the way we view ourselves this was well-executed and brilliantly done.

But overall I have to say Lum’s pieces leave me cold, except for the East Van cross, which raises my ire.

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