Gilded All Over With Thin Leaves Of Fine Gold.
Last week I met with artist Ryan Gander and during the course of conversation, his 2010 commission for the Public Art Fund in New York entitled ‘The Happy Prince’ came up. Ryan had proposed the idea for the sculpture to me as a potential public artwork some two years previously, but I had struggled to find the precise context to site the work. Anyhow, we were looking at a photograph of the installation piece - now fully realised - with a street performer looking for all the world like Tim Burton’s take on Willie Wonka sat on it. I mentioned that having a living prince was a neat conceit, before Ryan said the guy was not part of the work! The guy had just adopted the ruined scenario as his own unique stage set for his daily performance. Though completely respectful of Ryan’s work (the piece was designed to be sat upon, and the performer had also taken the trouble to perch on a piece of cardboard so as not to leave the imprint of gold body paint on the sculpture) - the anecdote set up a nice circular moment as a quoted Oscar Wilde text (in material form) became appropriated by a living sculpture.
It’s interesting to see Ryan’s thoughts on the piece at the time it was installed – this interview quoted from The White Review website, which you can find in full here.
QTHE WHITE REVIEW — Exhibited in Central Park, The Happy Prince (2010) is your first public installation. You have said that you ‘always avoided making work that is connected with notions of ‘the public’ or a ‘non-art’ audience. The idea of public art makes you] think of terrible sculptures on roundabouts’.
ARYAN GANDER — About two years ago, I became a little disillusioned with art. It began to seem a little easy for me. The institution is a little safe, when you have studied and experimented within its confines for such an amount of time. It becomes easy to second-guess how things will turn out. You become fluent in its language and articulation, and soon enough you start to know how words will sound before you utter them. So, I am embarking on a series of challenges I have set for myself and public art was the first. It had to do with producing a public artwork about the nature of public art, which would discuss the value of art in public spaces and to a given public. I think The Happy Prince achieves this, so I am happy. But it was nice to be in a situation where I wasn’t sure if it would be successful or without knowing what a certain public response would be. So I try different things. A new screenplay is absorbing most of my time.
QTHE WHITE REVIEW — As a ruined monument, isThe Happy Princean expression of your dislike for public art – did you derive satisfaction from its ruin?
ARYAN GANDER — No. It’s an exercise in imagination. It’s how I imagine the final scene of the book If the sculpture has to represent anything, it represents a similar concern to the book – that value in art is more closely linked to cause, idea and intent, as opposed to appearance.
QTHE WHITE REVIEW — You have said that your work is not romantic. How can it not be, when you decided to use Oscar Wilde’s story?
ARYAN GANDER — No, I have said it is romantic and poetic. Although now, I question it, I think it has more to do with looking at romanticism rather than being romantic.