(Picture courtesy of H4NUM4N at flickr.com.)
We have varying reactions to works of art that represent a world of what seems mechanical forms, structure that defies our sense of beauty to some extent. The break from representational art provokes us, and is meant to, to give us different views of the world around us.
The work pictured above, situated in the Hirshorn Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden, confronts the multitudes that visit the National Capitol’s Mall. That makes it probably one of the best known works of what is often referred to as modern art.
The piece has many descriptions, but it is something like a ship’s prow and the artist’s background in sailing communities is suggested. That there are angles which introduce ‘V’ shapes and that it is made of recycled metal also come up.
The dangling “V” shaped piece of the sculpture has been described as representing the prow of a ship, or, as by art critic Irving Sandler as a representation of di Suvero’s family’s maritime heritage in Venice. Sandler also stated that the acute angles have male and female associations, with the horizontal representing a penis and the vertical “V”, a vagina, which di Suvero does not associate with the work. The “V” has also been suggested to represent birds in flight or a “V” for victory. Jayne Merkel believed that Are Years What? exploited the strengths of the I-beams yet “at the same time, he has made a piece that is graceful and well balanced – aesthetically pleasing and intriguing from a number of points of view.” Upon the sculpture’s installation at the Hirshhorn, The Washington Post received the work as “brilliant in conception,” “prominent, beautiful and memorable. It lifts the heart and stays in the mind. It is a gift to the city and all who visit.” Are Years What? is considered by some to be di Suvero’s “breakthrough work.”
That signs inform us it is not meant to be climbed on tells me what the form means to children. It would be nice if they could scramble around on it. Insurance forfends.
Mercifully, most of us have recovered from the stage of feeling insulted when art occurs in forms that we need adjusting to. If you don’t see beauty in a piece of this sort, at least you are probably beyond the stage when you feel insulted to be shown a new way to look at a world we don’t understand and can’t make into perfectly satisfactory representations.