Matt Pozorski's Fuat piece.  Photo by Alex Shiffer
ArtsWE Controversy
The Eye of the Beholder

Haven't we heard this before?

In a case of history repeating itself, an installation that was put on display as a part of this summer's ArtsWE event, which brings the art of over thirty local artists to the storefronts and windows of downtown Ellenville, has been removed from its perch on Canal Street due to complaints and comments of protest from village residents.

"From the moment I installed the piece, I caught some discontent," recalls Matt Pozorski, an artist whose work is no stranger to controversy. Two years ago, as part of the AWE event (Art in the Windows of Ellenville, a precursor to this summer's ArtsWE), his sculptures called "Angels" caught fire for their depiction of nude human bodies, a staple of artistic expression for centuries. This time, the piece he installed is a pair of sculptures called "Angel for Fuat," the latest in the aforementioned series of "angel" sculptures Pozorski creates. The angels are inspired by cancer survivors he has known, though in this case, the subject of the installation was a friend of his who has had a rough time of things regarding an ended marriage, as well as a difficult time coping with the country's current war-embroiled status.

To that end, Pozorski's nude figures represent his friend — the Fuat piece, which resembles a squat and sick-looking overweight man — and an interpretation of the Norse mythological figure of the valkyrie, which resembles a spider-woman hybrid, and who hovers above him, supposedly at the end of his difficult life. According to Norse tradition, valkyries welcome warriors to heaven at the end of heroic lives…and in Pozorski's piece, it seems questionable as to the valkyrie's intentions.

This interpretation and understanding of the piece was made easy by speaking with Pozorski himself about it — an opportunity that those who complained about the piece to the building owner neglected to take advantage of. John Livingston, the owner of the building at 89 Canal Street which showcased Pozorski's installation, received at least ten complaints ranging from concerns about the nude figure's proximity to churches, to the possibility of children being able to view it, and to simply being personally offended by the imagery. Livingston removed the statue last Saturday, and since then, only the valkyrie figure has remained.

While the complaints were certainly part of the reason for Livingston taking the initiative to remove the offending statue, he also cited a concern for the safety of passers-by underneath the balcony on which the statues were situated.

"I was more interested in the safety aspect," says Livingston, explaining that he was worried about what could happen if the statue, which he described as "hanging over the edge of the building," should fall or injure anyone underneath.

As for his feelings regarding the subject matter, Livingston seems uninterested.

"I really didn't care…I just wish he would've put a pair of underwear on it," he says.

As for Pozorski, he'll be taking down the other figure in the installation just as soon as he's able to get over to Ellenville, since the two pieces are meant to be displayed together. Regarding the complaints, the artist is disappointed and somewhat offended himself.

"I have no problem with comments and controversy," he explains. "But I'm disappointed when it's not a dialogue or discussion." Pozorski expresses some dissatisfaction that none of those who complained did so directly to him — despite the fact that his phone number was on display along with his piece.

Pozorski also counters some of the points in the complaints, such as people rarely expressing problems with female nudity (evidenced by the lack of complaints regarding the still-on-display valkyrie figure), and that the display itself was placed on the second floor of a building, not exactly at eye-level for children.

As to whether or not he would agree to put the installation on display at another location if given the chance, Pozorski says he "would be very happy to."

This is not the first time the village of Ellenville has had piece of art removed due to complaints from the public. In 2006, during the village's first 10x10x10 exhibit, a piece by renowned New York City Artist Huma Baba was removed by the artist from a window next to Cohen's Bakery because of complaints about a portion of the sculpture which some said resembled a male member, and which the artist said was a mushroom.

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