You know it when you see it


EL PASO – Who gets to say what is ugly or beautiful?  When time is up on a parking meter, you may get a ticket. If you are really lucky, “Lovely Rita, Meter Maid” writes it. But who writes a ticket for an ugly space that we all have to look at?  And why are curators and art historian types the only ones who can definitively say something is art and can be in a museum? Shouldn’t we all have some say in these matters, especially matters concerning the spaces and places we occupy every day?

A couple of years ago, I watched a building being built and became uncharacteristically angry. About a month ago I interviewed a former student from Paris who said that the worst thing about El Paso was the seventies style architecture of many strip malls. A couple of weeks ago, I had a thought about some photos I had taken, and today I talked to my art-inclined son in New York.  Several seemingly unconnected thoughts and events merged into an idea that has been percolating for a while now. There is both beauty and ugliness around us that needs to be publicly acknowledged. My son and I agree about the beauty part; we didn’t talk about the ugly.

Have you heard of the Golden Raspberry Awards (Razzies) for the worst movies, actors and directors and, of course, the Academy and Emmy Awards for the best movies and television programs?  We need something like that.

There is one particular building at the corner of Schuster and Mesa, a relatively new building, for endoscopy (already not a pretty picture) that offends my aesthetic senses every time I pass by, which would be often since it is my normal entrance to Mesa Street from home.  I think to myself that building is a crime, and that whoever approved the building permit or the site plan should be…well, ticketed at least. The strip malls that Anne Laure referenced are also ugly. Allowing for the fact that different people have different taste, there is still no excuse for no taste. Not every building need be beautiful, but no building need be ugly. We have lists of drunk drivers and sex offenders and Most Wanted, why not a Not Wanted list of ugly spaces? It could be a temporary designation or it could be labeled permanently ugly, in which case we could put up one of those bronze plaques like they have for historical sites.

Likewise, there are “things of beauty” or sights that give us pause, make us think, are quirky or fun, that we might call art. Allowing for differences in taste again, what I might find artistic and interesting, someone else might not, but surely everyone could find something that appeals to them. It might be a building, old or new, or an angle of one building against another or against a tree or sky. It might even be the absence of something. Art might be lurking in your neighborhood or nestled in unlikely places—alleyways, trees, front doors, rocks, gardens, old cars, dumpsters. Some beauty is as fleeting as a sunset; others last a day or a season, or can only be seen at a certain times. A few, or maybe many, are just permanently and irrevocably beautiful…in color, shape, texture or all three.

How shall we celebrate them?  If we think of our city and its surroundings as an art museum and ourselves as curators of the art in it, what would we include in our exhibit? Every piece of art in a museum or gallery has a plaque or a little white card that tells us the name of the piece, and something about it. If it is a gallery, that something is usually a price. Sometimes you get a brochure or more information about the artist on the wall. There can be a grand opening ceremony, complete with wine and cheese, and a presentation of the artist(s). If it is a museum, we are often told why a certain piece is art, maybe what it means or the style it represents. Those curators have to feel like they are doing their jobs.

But, what if we had a cyber museum and a Not Wanted list, and we made maps to places and wrote white cards that told others what we were thinking about when we decided something was ugly or art. For the spaces that got lots of votes, we could give out the awards, the symbols or the statues, the plaques or the tickets. But first, the nominees are…

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