duck

“Tragedy has struck London this week,” reports CityLab staff writer Kriston Capps. “The city is the latest to fall under the influence of Florentijn Hofman.”

He continues: “The Dutch artist has just debuted, and I cannot believe I am about to write this word, HippopoThames, a wooden hippo river sculpture headlining a festival on the Thames. At least, that’s what it’s doing this week. In the months to come, you might find it on the Yangtze or the Ganges or the Rhône.

Elsewhere this week, in Taiwan, Hofman introduced Moon Rabbit, a sculpture for a land-art festival in Taoyuan. This one looks like an Easter Bunny to me, though it must mean something else in Taiwan, where less than 5 percent of the population practices Christianity. I’m sure that whatever it means to the Taiwanese also translates anywhere else in the world: big funny giant floppy bunny rabbit.”

Then Capps gets to the heart of the article, about Rubber Duck, the “decidedly Western fixture” and its recent debut in Los Angeles, its American debut in Pittsburgh last fall and ultimately why the Duck must now be stopped.

Say what?  We loved that duck. We want that Duck back. We experienced the magnetic draw–not to mention the economic impact– of the 40-foot inflatable joy toy that drew crowds to the waterfront daily as it bobbed happily in our river.

But Capps feels differently. “While I’m hardly the first to say it—the duck has got to go,” says Capps. “How so many cities became ensorcelled by a gimmicky bath toy is really beside the point. Rubber Duck sends an infantilizing message about the role of public art in cities.”

(Ensorcelled? Yes, that was us. Enchanted. Bewitched. Under the spell of the Rubber Duck.)

Capps goes on to detail what Rubber Duck is costing the cities that host it which he claims is $20,000. “Now, $20,000 might seem like a bargain for a spectacle of Rubber Duck‘s magnitude. But that figure ignores the enormous public subsidy that Pittsburgh gives the artist in the form of access to the Point, the meeting place of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers (and one of the loveliest vistas in the nation). The same is true for so many other harbors and waterways that cities simply open up to Rubber Duck gratis.

Hmm. Can’t say we agree with this having experienced the magic of the Rubber Duck but we do like the line about one of the loveliest vistas in the nation.

Part of Capps’ disgust is that now every harbor wants the Rubber Duck. And in this sense, it was highly advantageous for Pittsburgh to be ahead of the game, before most people had even heard of the Duck or were tired of hearing about the Duck.

Capps’ biggest issue, however, is his feeling that cities are being duped by the duck’s squeaky-clean, rated-G mass appeal, and not launching it for its artistic value.

Creativity is and ought to be a source of pride for cities as diverse as London, Beijing, and Los Angeles—and an engine for their economies…it’s clear how easy it is for cities to lose sight of what makes public art really register. When it’s done right, public art expresses some unique value about a city’s particular cultural vantage point. Rubber Duck has all the nutritional value and regional identity of a Diet Coke.”

Diet Coke? Why diet, we wonder? In any case, he neglects to mention one of the strengths of the Duck–drawing people to the city to experience that city’s particular cultural vantage point.

Come for the duck, stay for the art! we said back then.

There’s more from the writer whose humor is evident throughout the piece : “Finally, because it just can’t be avoided: This art isn’t all it’s quacked up to be. I’m calling fowl. Cities of a feather shouldn’t flock together. Oh god—it’s time for a duck hunt.”

Read the full article here.

Rebekah Zook

Rebekah Zook is a Duquesne grad and all-around story-telling enthusiast. A former fellow at WESA, she worked as a production assistant for their daily talk show. Most recently, she taught in the Propel...