Uncanny - Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, yet some artists strive to communicate something beyond mere likeness

Uncanny - Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, yet some artists strive to communicate something beyond mere likeness

15 Feb 2021 - 07:18 BY Jeni Fraser

UNCANNY! by Jeni Fraser

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, yet some artists strive to communicate something beyond mere likeness. 

Maggi Hambling’s 2020 Mary Wollstonecraft statue was unveiled to an avalanche of furious criticism.  Defending her work, the artist said she would never have accepted the commission if she had been constrained by convention of preconceived demands.It’s not the first time one of her creations has courted controversy: 'Conversation with Oscar Wilde’ (2015) sited in Trafalgar Square was dubbed ‘a horrible work of art’ by the art critic of the Guardian. 

He goes on to write:  “Bad statues can be upsetting, even frightening. There is, after all, something uncanny about replicating the human form. In Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Pushkin’s poem The Bronze Horseman, statues come eerily to life, and such fictional nightmares come true when statues accidentally slip into a zombie-like ugliness that freaks out their onlookers.”

Sculptors playing fast and loose with the likenesses of famous people is nothing new.  Eschewing the idealisation in Greek statuary, the Romans were first among those adopting a ‘veristic’ approach to portrait sculpture.  One could argue that Rodin’s rendition of Balzac affronted the author’s many fans – the sight of their hero wrapped in a non-descript dressing gown didn’t strike quite the right note of ‘genius’ they were hoping for. Critics likened it to a sack of coal, a snowman, and a seal, and the literary society that had commissioned the work dismissed it as a “crude sketch.”

Many of you will remember the next sitter – although not, perhaps, as she appears in this 2009 statue by Dave Poulin: 

This terrifying sculpture of Lucille Ball, known as "Scary Lucy", will no longer haunt children's nightmares. It has been replaced with a much friendlier-looking version of the beloved comedy star.

The original sculpture was installed in Lucille Ball Memorial Park in Ball's hometown of Celoron, NY. Its unveiling inspired such outrage, a Facebook page was dedicated to the cause of replacing the monstrosity and garnered more than 11,000 likes. Artist Carolyn Palmer was commissioned to create a replacement for "Scary Lucy" and the new version was revealed on Saturday, the day that would have been Ball's 105th birthday.

Cristiano Ronaldo (the handsome Real Madrid footballer) received the incredible honour of having his hometown airport in Madeira, Portugal renamed for him. As part of the renaming ceremony, a bronze bust created by artist Emanuel Santos was unveiled, and it was... startling.

As soon as the drape sheet came off the bust, photos captured Ronaldo, Portuguese president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, and Prime Minister Antonio Costa trying not to laugh at the goofy-looking statue. it seems that the sculptor commissioned to create a bust of Ronaldo to commemorate the event does - so short that even armed with a picture of the superstar footballer, they were unable to remember exactly what he looks like...

As a parting shot:  who do you think is commemorated here?
(Answer:  The life-size wooden sculpture of ex- first lady Melania Trump  by Ales ‘Maxi’ Zupvec using a chainsaw was officially unveiled in Rozno, near her hometown of Sevnica, Slovenia, July 5, 2019.  The sculpture's commissioner said he understood why some people would think the sculpture "falls short as a description of her physical appearance" but maintained that it was still "absolutely beautiful."  It was set on fire in 2020!)

Maggi Hambling’s A Conversation with Oscar Wilde: Photograph: Alisdair Macdonald/Rex

Photo credit: The Associated Press

Photo credit:  Philipp Schmidli/Stringer

Photo credit:  USA TODAY, STORYFUL


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