Visual Arts

Unauthorized! The DAM put the nix on 1,000 paper cranes, and that's unfortunate

Within just a few hours of the time local artist Talia Kauk installed 1,000 paper cranes outside the Hamilton Building of the Denver Art Museum yesterday, without permission, security came out, snipped them down and tossed them in the trash, and they were gone. Conceived as a commentary on the Tsunami disaster in Japan, the installation was at once a powerful gesture of goodwill and an unexpected compliment to the Hamilton's signature jutting lines, and though Kauk told the Denver Post's Colleen O'Connor today that she didn't intend it to be permanent, it would have been nice to see it there a little longer. Sadly, the DAM didn't see it the same way -- and the more you think about that, the sadder it gets. First off, there are some striking parallels between Kauk's piece and Arturo Di Modica's "Charging Bull." In the wake of the Stock Market Crash of 1987, the Italian artist created the 7.100 lb. bronze sculpture as a symbol of renewed hope and prosperity -- the bull, of course, refers to an aggressive market upswing. At a personal expense of some $300,000, Di Modica cast the sculpture and had it trucked up to Manhattan and left under the 60-foot Christmas tree in front of the New York Stock exchange, a gift to the American people.

Except he didn't get permission first.

Police impounded the sculpture. Later, though, amid public outcry, the city installed the piece two blocks away in Bowling Green Park, and it remains a tourist draw and an icon of Wall Street.

Kauk's piece is similarly a gift. Referencing the Japanese legend that anyone who makes 1,000 paper cranes will be granted a wish (popularized in Eleanor Coerr's Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes), it's a powerful symbolic tribute to a people in strife -- and it's a more tangible tribute, too. Attached to the cranes were bar-codes that would allow smartphone users to immediately access the Red Cross's donations site, along with number for text donations as well.

And both installations, of course, were not authorized.

Here's the big difference: Di Modica installed his piece in front of a stock exchange, whereas Kauk installed hers in front of an art museum. An appreciation of art is not something you would really expect from stockbrokers. From an art museum, though, it would seem that's exactly what you should expect.

At its most basic level, the concept of "unauthorized" art -- street art, happenings, graffiti, spontaneous installations -- serves two purposes: One, it's a form of artistic expression, and in that vein, Kauk's would seem to qualify as a considered one, an aesthetically sound commentary on a major social issue. Two, it's a form of rebellion against power structures, an assertion of individuality against the homogeneous backdrop of institutional efficiency.

A stock exchange, of course, is in a way the acme of that hegemony. But it's a damn shame that the art museum -- which is supposed to nurture and represent the artistic community -- is just as bad.

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte