Book Reviews -- Spirit Poles and Flying Pigs: Public Art and Cultural Democracy in American Communities by Erika Doss

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Spirit Poles and Flying Pigs: Public Art and Cultural Democracy in American Communities. Erika Doss. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995, 278 pp. with black-and-white illustrations, ISBN 1-56098+534-8, $17.95.

So good it hurts, Erika Doss has written an honest straightforward book about public art that is so truthful that you want to cry, either on behalf of community or against prevailing standards. Doss's book is a fascinating study of select cases of public art, ranging from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington (by Maya Lin with amendments by other artists) through the Cincinnati Gateway sculpture project by Andrew Leicester that gives the book its title, in the sphere of public reactions. A California highway art deemed by The National Enquirer the "ugliest tax-funded sculpture in America" ends up having dire political consequences for its champion. A Barbara Kruger project for macro-wall signage in Los Angeles turns out to affect the Japanese-American community of the surrounding Little Tokyo very differently from the mandarins of art and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art's Temporary Contemporary.

Doss has written a fascinating book, which should be required reading for politicians of all stripe as well as for artists and arts advocates. She looks at art with expertise and acumen, but she also knows what it is to place art in the American heartland and to realize its positive and negative impact. …