Tuesday 16 November 2004

Compounding stupidity with obstinacy.

Maria Alquilar is an artist from Florida. She was recently paid $40,000 to put a ceramic mural on the side of the new library in Livermore, California. The mural features portraits of historical figures with their names spelt incorrectly. That wasn't the city council's intention when they commissioned the work, of course. It's just that Alquilar can't spell.

That alone is no reason to suppose she's stupid, of course. Some people use their intelligence to get good at spelling; others use it to become adept at making large-scale ceramic works of art, and that's fair enough. No, what makes it abundantly clear that this woman is thick as mince is her reaction.

She had planned to fly to California and put the missing "n" back in Einstein and remove the extra "a" in Michelangelo, among other fixes. But after receiving a barrage of what she called "vile hate mail," Alquilar said Livermore is off her travel itinerary and there'll be no changes by her artistic hand.

"No, I will not return to Livermore for any reason," Alquilar, of Miami, told The Associated Press in an e-mail. "There seems to be so much hatred within certain people. They continuously look for a scapegoat. I guess I am the sacrificial goat."

Yes, as far as Alquilar is concerned, the spelling mistakes are someone else's fault. She made the mural, she designed the mural, she put the incorrectly-spelled names in the mural, but someone else is to blame for the misspellings in the mural. Either that or she doesn't know what "scapegoat" means.

Now, why would she have got hate mail? Well, being a sensitive artistic type, maybe she's exaggerating a bit: maybe it was more disdain mail than hate mail. Or maybe it's got something to do with this:

She previously told officials in Livermore, about 40 miles east of San Francisco, that she would fix the 11 misspellings. She asked for $6,000 plus travel expenses to correct the work they paid her $40,000 to create. The city council, faced with the embarrassing prospect of leaving the typo-strewn work in front of its spanking new library, voted 3-2 to approve the expenditure.

She's happy to take $40,000 of taxpayers' money, but doesn't think that such a sum carries with it any responsibility whatsoever. She thinks that she should be allowed to charge extra — a lot extra — just to fix her own fuck-ups. And she doesn't understand why the people she's extorting might take a bit of a disliking to her. And then she thinks that, when she throws a tantrum and leaves her patrons in the shit, this demonstrates how principled she is.

Alquilar explained that it took her a lot of time and money to create the work

Yes, and? She has chosen to do this for a living, so obviously it takes time. So does my job. So does Elton John's. As for the money it took, that, lest we forget, was provided to her by someone else. The amount of money this work cost her is smaller than the amount she charged for it. This work didn't cost her money; it made her money. Does she really not understand this?

She noted that plenty of people from the city were on hand during the installation who could and should have seen the errant spellings, she said.

Yes, they probably should, but that doesn't mean that she shouldn't have. And, at the end of the day, she had more responsibility for this than anyone else. I don't notice her volunteering to pay any of her profits to these other people who she says had full responsibility for her spelling.

The mistakes wouldn't even register with a true artisan, Alquilar said before deciding to leave the work as is.

"The people that are into humanities, and are into Blake's concept of enlightenment, they are not looking at the words," she told The AP.

Which kind of makes you wonder why she put the words in at all. Here's something from her own website:

Maria believes that the most important elements that should exist in a Public Art Work are the following:

  1. The work must have universal appeal for the users of the site on all levels, intellectual, emotional and spiritual.
  2. The users of the site should be considered at the planning stage.
  3. The visitors to the site must be able to interact with the art at one or more of the aforementioned levels.

So, does this work of hers have universal appeal on an intellectual level for the staff and patrons of a library, do you think?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, gosh. I wanted Ms Aquelar to bid on a pricey installation we're doing in our city, but I couldn't find her name in the phone book. Maybe I was spelling it wrong. It would have cost me time and money to come back and check it out the correct spelling on this blog, so I didn't bother. Besides, spelling's a kind of conceptual thing anyway, don't you think?