Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Big Expensive Metal Art, Plus Other Stuff

The PopCulteer
December 4, 2009

It’s Big, But Is It Art?

I’ve waited a few weeks to chime in on the controversial sculpture, “Hallelujah,” which was erected in front of the Clay Center in late summer. It’s certainly a provocative piece. Opinions tend to run from the very vocal people who hate it, to a few folks who, when pressed, will sheepishly admit that they sort of like it. I find myself in the middle. I like the idea of a big abstract outdoor piece in a prominent place in Charleston, and I like the piece itself, but I don’t think it really works in that location.

John and Ruth McGee of Charleston donated the $900,000 sculpture, and they are to be commended for their generosity. Their choice of art might not be to your taste, but I didn’t see anyone else pony up 90o Grand to fill that empty spot in front of the Clay Center.


There is one major reason that “Hallelujah” doesn’t quite succeed with me.

The muted Earth tones of the rust-colored metal that make ujp most of the base of the sculpture do not contrast enough with the muted Earth tones of the brick facade of the Clay Center. Contextually, the piece loses its effectiveness because it doesn’t stand out enough. Put it in front of a steel-and-glass monstrosity like Laidley Tower, and it would be quite striking. In front of the Clay Center, it’s just not outstanding enough. I have to wonder if the artist actually visited the site, before he created the work.

It hit me that the piece could be improved. And I realize how arrogant it is to suggest that I know better than the artist, but if I’m going to criticize it, at least I’m trying to do it constructively. What hurts the piece for me is the rust color of the base pieces. It makes it look pre-decayed, which doesn’t make sense considering how much money was spent on the piece. Maybe it would have been better to craft the base parts out of a shiny silver metal that would take on the rusty look over time. As it is, “Hallelujah” reminds me of jeans that come with holes already in the knees.

I have to wonder if maybe the piece would be better received if it were nice and shiny, like this…

The fact that “Hallelujah” is not an instant hit, means that the snarky comments have been flying. And there have been some really good ones. A caller to one of the vent lines asked if anybody survived the plane crash in front of the Clay Center. I’ve heard someone suggest the the full title of the piece is “Hallelujah! Some suckers finally bought all that scrap metal I had in the back yard!” My own first impression was that the piece looked like a tornado had hit a Burger Boy Foodarama.

I have to admit, however, that the piece has grown on me, especially since I got up close to take photos. It can help an adult regain their childlike “What The Hell Is That? feeling. Walking under the piece, you feel small and a little confused. Up close you can also appreciate the almost wood-grain qualities of the rust-colored metal, which looks so ugly from a distance. I like the spaceship-looking piece and the wavy metal bits. If you ever wondered what it would be like to drop acid and walk around under an interstate bridge, just go stand under “Hallelujah.”

That may explain why it draws comments like the ones that suggest it was just randomly welded-together pieces they grabbed out of an abandoned amusement park. It looks old. perhaps that’s the idea, but it doesn’t work for me if it is. Did we really need a celebration of entropy in front of the Clay Center?
I like the scale of the piece. If you’re one of the many who hate it, I suggest you get up close to experience it from different angles. It may win you over somewhat. At the very least, you may come to appreciate the Helter Skelter qualities of “Hallelujah.”

Check back Monday for my five rejected ideas for a Clay Center sculpture, in Monday Morning Art.

Cool Comic Of The Week

This week our cool comic is a graphic novel, “Tasty Bullet” by Arnold Pander and Jacob Vankin. This tells the story of the mascot for a mysterious energy drink, “Tasty,”which was sold in limited areas of Asia and Europe for a brief time, before being abruptly yanked from the market.

The fast-paced story and Manga-influenced art make for a herky-jerky thrill ride as we follow the trail blazed by the wild young stunt-woman who becomes the face of a potentially-addictive energy soda. Super Powers, addiction and a world-wide conspiracy come into play. Published by the Shadowline Imprint of Image Comics, this graphic novel can be ordered from local bookstores, ISBN unmber is 978-1-60706-128-1.

Quick Weekend Highlights

We are pressed for time, so this week just remember you can still check out “Mary” at The WVSU Capitol Center Theater on Friday and Saturday at 8 PM, and the No Pants Players Joytacular Friday and Saturday at 8 PM at The La Belle Theater in South Charleston.

Also, check out Kanawha Players production of “Miracle On 34th Street,” directed by Mandy Petry, who was so wonderful in our Halloween episode as “Mandy.” You can catch “Miracle” Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM at The Civic Center Little Theater.

Next week in PopCult

Look for episode 88 of Radio Free Charleston, plus our usual Sunday and Monday videos and art. Also, get ready for the 2009 PopCult shopping guide! We’ll also have bonus photo essays and other cool stuff, really.

1 Comment

  1. Elvis Capone

    Is that the Millennium Fulcrum*, or is the Clay Center just glad to see me?

    *STALL WALLS reference

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