Sunday, May 23, 2004

PANDAMANIA: Not Meaning to Be Offensive

Saturday evening, I was at a European embassy staffer party at a secluded home in North Arlington, where I wanted to stick my foot in my mouth. The conversation in the kitchen had shifted to the grand public art project, Pandamania, where hundreds of pre-formed pandas have been decorated by local artists and will be later auctioned off for charity.

"Oh no, not the stupid pandas," I said.

"I designed one of them," someone said from across the way.

Oops. I didn't mean it exactly that way. (For the record, I think public art initiatives are very important, but Pandamania, along with the Party Animals two summers back, are representative of D.C.'s restrictive appreciation for public art and the creative classes. The pre-formed pandas can be kitschy, non-threatening or not very imaginative. But others can be quite interesting and innovative. Overall, my complaint is that the general public loves these kinds of sidewalk art initiatives, but when they're gone, the mass appeal for public art evaporates. So my ridicule is more of symbolism, rather than substance.)

The artist, Oliver Dupeyron, told me about his panda and we later got into a discussion about the awkward arts scene in Washington. I haven't seen his panda up close, but Dupeyron, a native of France, said that it represents the two sides of Paris: One of all the tourist landmarks, and the other the pain, despair and poverty present in the French capital. And that concept is overall quite interesting as a similar dichotomy is present here in Washington. After doing a little research on The Washington Post's Pandamania guide, I think that Dupeyron's work is stationed at Connecticut Avenue and L Street. It's not necessarily a fun and cute panda, so perhaps that why they stuck it in the middle of the central business district instead of at a tourist landmark.


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