Donald Lipski's new sculpture outside Camp Randall, "Nail's Tales," is subversive - but not in the way you might think.
No, I'm not talking about its refusal to depict a single, revered figure like Elroy Hirsch or Bucky. Its true subversiveness is measured in the way it's become Madison's very own three-dimensional Rorschach test. Madison's id has been released, and, we come to find out, it's the id of a nervously tittering 15-year-old boy. I can't remember the last time a single work of art got this much attention locally - or inspired so much half-baked, penis-obsessed journalism. Sometimes, folks, a sculpture is just a sculpture.
To recap, for those who have missed the saga thus far: Lipski, as part of the state's Percent for Art program, won the commission for a public art piece outside the football stadium. A nationally known artist and 1970 UW grad, Lipski named the piece after a college buddy. Its basic form is a gray, 48-foot obelisk of stacked footballs.
I've had plenty of chances to see "Nail's Tales" at various times of day, in different lighting conditions. Heck, I can't help it - I pass it on my way home from work. While I don't think it's nearly as bad as many have made it out to be, it's not a stunner, either. Other Donald Lipski works are wittier, more startling. (For proof, check out the catalog of the Lipski show at the Madison Art Center in 2000.) And as far as public art pieces go, I don't think "Nail's Tales" will become a city icon in the way that Claes Oldenburg's "Spoonbridge and Cherry" is for Minneapolis. That piece is stronger, better sited and much larger in scale.
However, I give Lipski credit for designing something that does not take sports overly seriously; he remembers that football is a game. There's a playfulness that is diametrically opposed to the hokey sincerity of the giant Packer statue in Green Bay, "The Receiver." You've gotta love the kitsch value of the big Packer, but great art it ain't.
And while "Nail's Tales" may not be truly great art either, who knew that it would spark such controversy? Before it was even installed, the State Journal's Susan Lampert Smith offered hackneyed humor about giant, deformed penises and diseased ears of corn. Mike Lucas of the Cap Times continued with the penis jokes and then griped self-righteously about "the make-believe world of artistic expression and license." (I guess sports must be the real world if art is the land of make-believe.)
While it's great that there is public discussion about a work of art, one gets the feeling that each commentator is trying to outdo the last as if the whole thing were some sort of stand-up competition. I'm not sure anyone's forming an original opinion anymore - they're just piling on.