Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A New Boy With Frog(s) Takes Up Residence on Punta della Dogana

While Charles Ray's original "Boy with Frog"(below) was monumentally-scaled, towering above viewers, the new "Boy with Frogs" sculpture (above) is life-sized, and much more approachable in the absence of an armed guard

When Charles Ray's nearly 8-foot-tall sculpture of a boy with a frog was removed in early May 2013 from the spot it had occupied "temporarily" on the Punta della Dogana for four years ( and replaced by a replica of a 19th-century lamp post that had once stood there I never imagined another boy would ever take the former one's place. Ray's sculpture was unpopular with many Venetians, who were widely-condemned by outside art critics as being narrow-minded and retrograde.

It's the kind of condemnation many art critics love to make, as it makes them feel (nostalgically, sentimentally) that they themselves are firebrands at the forefront of the avant-garde, rather than, typically, the free-loading shills of a profoundly cynical and essentially conservative art world ruled far more by market manipulation than aesthetics. (Loitering at the open bar, these revolutionaries never get as far as the barricades.)

I suspected that the animosity many Venetians felt toward the piece had more to do with the fact that here, in a small city in which immensely wealthy (and often outside) private interests too often overwhelm the public good, Ray's sculpture was a private work (commissioned and owned by French billionaire François Pinault) installed in one of the most famous public spaces in Venice and watched over by an armed private security guard.  

The only thing that could have made this set-up more disconcerting to many Venetians was if the guard were clothed in a Napoleonic uniform.

The new boy on the Punta della Dogana, which I just saw for the first time today, subverts both Pinault's multi-million-euro showpiece sculpture and the rather stodgy replica lamp post that replaced it. (That the original lamp post had been "lost" during the course of the Ray boy's 4-year-stay was taken by many to indicate the usual shenanigans with public property: first, theft, then the no-bid contract to some properly-connected interest to provide the replacement). With its modest materials, its human scale, its parodic intent, it reclaims the spot for the public, as the carnivalesque traditionally used to do. Before Carnevale was privatized into solely another tourist attraction.

At least this is what I take to be its intent. Whether it succeeds or not--and what "success" would consist of--is yet to be seen. And in fact, I'm not even sure of who made it and positioned it where it is, though I assume the Ca' Foscari student group Liberi Saperi Critici, whose decal adorns the plywood sculpture's groin, is behind it (

(Two pieces I wrote in 2011 about Ray's original piece, when it seemed it would always be on Punta della Dogana, can be read here: and here:

NOTE: Within a week of the above post the wood sculpture was no longer to be seen on the Punta della Dogana. A brief explanation of the wood piece's original function as part of a protest can be found here:

When it comes to the amphibious element, what the new piece lacks in realistic detail it makes up for in number--and wind chimes
The new sculpture, above, is yet to attract anything like the interest of the old one, below--but it never requires a protective enclosure


  1. I like the fun of this new lad and his frogs! I wonder how long he'll be allowed to stay in this busy spot.

    I agree so wholeheartedly with your statement : "Carnevale was privatized into solely another tourist attraction" . It's such a travesty in the main tourist areas. When you escape to the periphery of Venice, you just might capture a whiff of the essence of what was once Carnevale.

    1. It will be interesting to see what becomes of it, Yvonne. So far I'm not even sure anyone else has really noticed the thing (besides an odd blogger on the lookout for a post subject): it's actually not so easy to see even from the passing #1 vaporetto. Perhaps they need to scale it up!

  2. I like this witty simulacrum, and I liked the Charles Ray boy too, certainly more than the faux lamp post which succeeded it.

    1. I thought the Ray was interesting, too, Anonymous, but I really disliked the armed guard beside it, which gave the point the feeling of occupied territory. I know the work required it, but it made the piece ill-fitted in some senses for the site. The lamp post... well, at least it's useful to passing boats, I suppose.

  3. This American sculptor teaches Venetian boys an important lesson. They're cousins that settled in America may have $20K/yr higher earning potential, but they also completely lack foreskin.

    1. Well, I guess, as you suggest, life is a series of trade-offs, gains and losses...