The blue crab effect

There is a monumental 1978 Mary Ann E. Mears sculpture (Red-Buoyant) in Baltimore on Pratt Street. It’s about two stories high and marks the end of an era for this kind of large abstract. Kids climb on it, smokers sometimes sit on it and it evokes that time when cities required builders to reserve part of their budget for sculpture or other public art.

I noticed the Mears piece sharing its space yesterday. Someone had dropped off a cast-molded concrete blue crab and positioned it at arms length in front of the abstract. The crab was self-consciously painted to evoke cuteness. It cues its public for the appropriate reaction, thereby reviewing itself, which is the very definition of kitsch.

The crab is Abe Lincoln’s cousin. Not President Lincoln but rather those specially painted Lincoln statues positioned around Springfield to emulate the cow effect. Remember the cows? Those that were especially painted and then placed around New York and Chicago and wherever? Someone thought this makes a city tourism friendly.

Looking at the crab unbelievingly, looking at another such up the street, I wondered what the hell must they have been thinking to place this item in front of a major piece of sculpture.

The crab itself answered my question directly. Placed there by the city’s parks and/or rec department no doubt at the behest of the tourism office, the crab had this to say:

(1) You are looking at the arts equivalent of how parks and tourism are also managing your historical sites.

(2) Enjoy, because this is actually an example of parks and tourism functioning at a higher-than-normal level. Your expectations should normally be lower.

(3) The crab is multipurposing the space. Increasing the “richness” and “density” of an arts destination. Appealing to wider audiences. Attracting the eyes of those broad masses that would not have noticed the Red-Buoyant.

(4) Multipurposing is the best use of public property from a tax and resources standpoint. All hail multipurposed artspace, parks and battlefields.

The kitschy crab reminded me of what lies in store for battlefields turned over to government control. And also how driven some preservationists are to turn battlefield lands over to the care of the blue crab tenders.

I’d like to take some preservationists on a blue crab tour of Baltimore: those who have not already committed to multipurposing, easements, and public ownership of hallowed ground.