10 Awful Public Art Pieces

A "great" artwork by Paul McCarthy.
A "great" artwork by Paul McCarthy.

The biggest challenge of finding ten of the most wretched public art pieces? Narrowing it down to only ten.

We could've made a bottom ten list for New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago alone. 

Maybe some other time.

10 Awful Public Art Pieces
Steve Jansen

A-maze-ing Laughter, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Art Attack visited Chinese artist Yue Minjun’s sculptures two summers ago because our Canadian friends thought it would be “funny” and “stupid” to do so. It was definitely more of the second thing.

The 14 oversized bronze creeps, installed near English Bay in 2009 as part of the Vancouver International Sculpture Biennale, are frozen in various cheeseball poses of hysterical laughter. As with public art of this “quality,” the real art isn’t the giant shirtless dudes, but rather the unintended performance art routines of seeing folks going insane over the pieces. 

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Lifesaver Fountain, Duisburg, Germany
This thing.

In 1991, the bird-ish creation of Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely was installed in the center of this western German city. It's made from scrapped-together industrial waste, stainless and varnished steel, polyester, and painted Teflon, and trickles of water spout from the bird’s domepiece and outstretched wings.

According to a Duisburg tourism website, the upchuck of colors that cover the bird head-to-toe “incorporates the ancient symbol of heaven with its bird associations… it represents the real world as an alternative to the fantastic bird which rises up above earthly life and drifts away into the world of dreams and visions.”

Huh? Lost in translation?

Tolerance, Houston
These seven sculptures along Buffalo Bayou at Allen Parkway and Montrose Boulevard are supposed to symbolize diversity. Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, working in silvery aluminum mesh, composed the bodies of the ten-foot-tall, alien-looking, kneeling figures with letters and symbols from various languages.
At night, the Houston Arts Alliance commission glows white in an attempt to get the wheels in your post-work-brain-mush churning and psyched about diversity and unity in Houston.


One question about Tolerance: How come the seven identical sculptures all look like white men?

Stroll (colloquially called Stickmen), Philadelphia
There’s a lot of killer public art in Philadelphia (the folk/mosaic art display at Magic Gardens, for instance), and there’s a lot of bunk, including William King’s 1995 piece Stroll, commissioned by the city of Philadelphia. The placement of the 30-foot-tall, towering aluminum and steel figures on the South Street Pedestrian Bridge between Front Street and Columbus Boulevard is supposed to evoke some sort of philosophical perspective on humans’ small place on Earth.


Instead of Stroll, the three open-air sculptures could be retitled Run (as in run the hell away as fast as you can when spotting these goofs, hardy har-har).

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