Educating the Rich on the Globe | Art for Proper 20

“If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” Luke 16:11-12

Educating the Rich on the Globe
Tom Otterness
 1952-
Educating the Rich on the Globe
1997
Sculpture,freestanding Metal
New YorkClick image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Educating the Rich on the Globe, bronze, 1997, Tom Otterness, 1952-

The excitement of finding, seeing, or experiencing something new or different seems to be built into our makeup as humans. We like to see technological advancements (new cars, airplanes, computers, etc.) and to talk about them as well. The fashion industry is known for its annual changes of colors, materials, and styles. Almost all other commercial areas of our lives also are subject to change; if nothing else, slogans and packaging are changed. In the arts, the avant-garde continues to push boundaries and as in almost every aspect of our culture, the pace of change has accelerated continuously within the past one hundred fifty years.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Pop Art with its familiar images from our commercial world (e.g. soup cans, comic strips, and celebrities) re-engaged the public. Pop imagery arrived at a time when large sums of money were being invested in art; individuals with immense wealth, large corporations, and city governments were among the collectors. At a time when the definition of art expanded, and money was available, collectors seemed to be eager to identify with works that were new, thought to be clever, and on the leading edge. City councils found that placement of art on sidewalks, in medians, or in parks promoted a positive image and before long, the imagery of pop culture spilled over into commissions for “Art in Public Places.” Serious art and war memorials were for Washington, DC. Other cities were likely to select work that did not require an emotional involvement or a mental effort from people in passing cars or pedestrians. Humor rather than solemnity tended to be preferred and images were likely to be entertaining and non-controversial. Often this resulted in pseudo-sophisticated works that were hollow in content and only pretended to have deep meaning. Among sculptors who tapped into an opportunity to receive large financial rewards for public sculpture was Tom Otterness.

Otterness’ “Educating the Rich on the Globe” is made in a cartoon balloon-figure Pop Art style. The title would lead one to believe the sculpture deals with the subject of moral responsibility. Instead, it is simply a play on the words of its title – a deliberate misdirection and a strained attempt at humor. At its base, four small people are supporting a globe that is obscured partly by very large pennies. The coins are apparently the artist’s nod to the fictitious surname, “Pennybags.” Uncle Pennybags, the man that is sprawled on his back atop the globe is wearing his usual tuxedo, bow tie and top hat, and will be recognized immediately as the board game figure also known as Mr. Monopoly. He is being straddled by a child that is reading from a very large book. The Globe in the title refers literally to the globe in the sculpture and the Rich is referring to Monopoly’s mascot, “Rich Uncle Pennybags.” In total, “Educating the Rich on the Globe” depicts a child with a book pretending to be Educating a man called Rich who is literally on the Globe. This work begs for a deadpan response.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

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