I had a few famous teachers at UCLA, and I just happened upon this article in the New York Times that my sculpture teacher, Charles Ray (we knew him as Charlie Ray) is in the news because his sculpture of a boy with a frog is being taken down.
This is a pretty tame-looking sculpture for Charlie – I even had to 2bl check to make sure it was really the same guy who made it – but having done “boy and frog” art myself (I kept pet tree frogs as a boy), I quite like this piece.
It’s obviously of a “neo-classical” nature, which would be an aesthetic that would earn it its place among the canals of Venice. However, Charlie is NOT a conventional, representational artist, and there just HAS to be an element of subversion. Undoubtedly, somebody with a little power and a conservative streak caught on that the artist wasn’t working tirelessly to uphold the status quo, but rather to undermine it, and so, they flicked his art off of it’s temporarily sovereign place within the canals of Venice.
Without doing any research on it, I’m guessing Charlie’s angle is that the boy is actually being cruel. This is an easy read for me, because of a work I made with a boy holding a lizard by it’s tail, and when I took the photo (in Champasak, Laos) there wasn’t any question that the lizard was destined for a grim fate.
The sculptural boy is over-sized – which is a typical sort of postmodern device (useful to claim higher prices while also lending the work scale/orientation-shift subversive credibility) – so, you have a larger-than-life naked, neoclassical boy, triumphantly gripping a frog by one hind leg, and poised to fling it or inflict some other form of bodily harm. Ray must be intending to initiate a re-examination of neo-classical sculpture, inspire quandaries about human nature, and probably make some connection between the onset of male sexuality, the increased curiosity and awareness of the physical world that comes with it, and cruelty… Whatever the rhetorical justifications are to make this piece a significant signpost in the cannon of art history, I don’t really care, it’s just a cool piece, especially the frog. I’d much rather it weren’t being take down in favor of a boring-ass lamp post. [Note that subsequent reading about what others had to say about the piece leads me to think my interpretation was spot on.]
Incidentally, when Charlie was my teacher my final project was a life-sized self-portrait sculpture make out of wood, newspaper, and masking tape. Charlie didn’t give out compliments often, but I remember what he said about this piece:
“This is good. I mean really good.”