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February 4, 2010

Bush & the Giant Banana (or "When Government Funding of the Arts Goes Bad")

I really don't get modern art.

I thought I'd heard it all in the art world.  Art awards for a room where the lights are going on and off, artwork that looks so much like garbage that janitors actually mistakenly threw it out.  You get the idea.  This type of "art" is bad enough, but what happens when the government gets involved?  

Most countries (even the US) have government funding of the arts.  Sadly, too much of these art grants go to projects like the infamous "Piss-Christ" (a crucifix submerged in a jar of the artist's urine) and other projects of that ilk.  They're usually morally objectionable, and the only reason they get government funding is that nobody in their right mind would actually pay for it themselves.  One thing you can say about these projects, no matter how reprehensible they are, is that they were actually produced.  They may be crap, but they're physical crap that you can actually see.

What happens when you don't get what you pay for?  The taxpayers get screwed even more.

Take the case of Argentinian artist Cesar Saez, who is currently living in Quebec.  Actually, maybe he isn't any more, but I'll explain that in a moment.

It seems that he came up with the bright idea to build a giant, 300-meter long flying banana that would fly over Texas, protesting George Bush's policies (I'm assuming this was planned while he was actually still president, unless this guy is just dreadfully living in the past).  It would be made of bamboo and some kind of synthetic paper.

Saez applied for, and was approved for, a grant from the Canadian government of $130,000 for this project.  The reasoning behind art-funding grants continues to elude me, but whatever.  I would have loved to have seen him try to get that over the border and down to Texas.  I can just see the mystification on the Customs agent's face as Saez tries to bring it across.

Customs Official: "Do you have any alcohol, tobacco, or firearms?"

Saez:  "No, just this giant banana."

Customs Official:  "You do realize you must declare all fruits that you are bringing with you?"

Saez:  "Sorry, officer.  I thought you could just look at it and see for yourself.  By the way, it's fake, you know."

Of course, we'll have to keep imagining this scene, because the banana in question WAS NEVER BUILT.  And Saez has now disappeared with the money.

From Big Blue Wave:

"Michel Gaboury of the Canada Arts Council said that the artist in question got about $80 000 over a two-year period. He said that the project involved more than the creation of the actual work of art. The artist conducted "research" that went into creating the piece. Gaboury could not tell the interviewer where the banana was. He also said that the artist in question did not have to live in Canada.

Carl Allen of the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec revealed that his organization gave the artist 2 bursaries totaling almost $50 000. (Actually he said 48 000, but he got his math wrong)."
Am I missing something, or is this totally insane?  The government of Canada is willing to fund artwork that's not even created in Canada?  It just makes me shake my head.

But it gets worse.

Apparently, the government's not going to go after him because, as they see it, he fulfilled his part of the contract.  See, the grant wasn't for actual production of said banana.  He never promised to do that.  No, he just promised to come up with a really cool idea for the banana.  That's all.  As far as the government is concerned, Saez did nothing wrong.  So he gets $130,000 of OUR money for coming up with a cool idea.

Where do I sign up?

Many thanks to Mark Steyn for tipping me off to this.  As always, he puts his own spin on it:

"And, as I'm sure most contemporary art scholars would assure us, the non-existing work of art becomes paradoxically a work of "performance art" (or non-performance non-art) in its own right. Failing that, he could always claim it floated off over New Mexico with a five-year-old boy inside it."

That's why I love reading him.


  1. Wow, I left you speechless? I'm amazed. :)

  2. Well Dave, I disagree with you in this case & agree with the Canadian Government...why? because I don't know about Canada but in the US the Arts woefully under funded. I believe the last NEA budget was around $80million for the whole country...that's a disgrace. I agree that some of the projects they pick aren't my taste & are actually vile but I believe the Arts need to be funded much more because so much good can come from the wide variety of arts available to people....sorry I don't get on my high horse often.



  3. Hey Bill

    Are you saying you agree with the Canadian government for funding an *idea* without actually getting the work of art? Because that's what I'm mainly complaining about.

    I have my own issues with funding art in general, but that's not the total point of this post. So I'm not sure what you're agreeing with them on.

    The general idea of funding the arts? Or the funding of any art, even art that's not actually produced?

    Can you clarify?

  4. You know, the odd thing is, when he mind said, "Performance artists too esoteric for their own good, but apparently rich....where do I sign up" LOL! I'm never shocked that the goverment is willing to spend money on nothing though. I just wish I could figure a way for them to pay me for nothing LOL.

  5. They pay people for nothing all the time here in the USA. It always gives me a warm feeling in the pit of my stomach when I learn of another great government grant for something ludicrous. My taxes can help some idiot set his hair on fire and call it Art, or someone does research on the mating habits of centipedes and whether or not they have feelings. I guess we should be grateful. Our government is creating jobs!

  6. Hi Barbara!

    Thank you so much for your comment. Yeah, I completely agree with all of the idiotic things we allow our government to spend its money both countries!

    What a stimulus plan, eh?


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