This August, a pair of artists installed hundreds of thousands of blood-red ceramic poppies in the moat of the Tower of London, an imposing 11th-century castle famed for its dungeons. The dramatic work by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and theater designer Tom Piper, which comes down tomorrow, was intended to commemorate each British casualty of World War One on the 100th anniversary of the UK joining the conflict; there are 888,246 poppies. However, a controversy erupted last week between the establishment and the public when the Guardian's art critic panned the wildly popular "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red" exhibition, which has been visited by four million people, as "a deeply aestheticized, prettified and toothless war memorial."
"There is a fake nobility to it," wrote critic Jonathan Jones of the "heroes turned frozen flowers." He continued: "A meaningful mass memorial to this horror would not be dignified or pretty. It would be gory, vile and terrible to see. The moat of the Tower should be filled with barbed wire and bones. That would mean something."
Many people strenuously objected to what they saw as an elitist view, and not just in the comments section. One of the artists, Tom Piper, fought back in the Observer, saying his sea of blood-reminiscent poppies "is a far subtler piece of work than people might take it for." He noted that it was about loss and remembrance, and therefore "it is a remarkably good thing that it is so accessible." According to Piper, "it has given individuals a unique way to tap back into their own family history and appreciate some of that human cost."
Faux-nobility or meaningful art for the masses? Judge for yourselves. Photos, below:
· The Tower of London Poppies Are Fake, Trite and Inward-Looking [Guardian]
· Designer: Tower of London Poppies Are Tribute to Human Cost of WWI [Observer]
· All Artistry posts [Curbed National]