Feeling Small- Scale and Proportion in Art
Walking across the imposing lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, you cannot miss to see the four giant shuttlecocks. Claes Oldenburg created these shuttlecocks alongside his wife Coosje Van Bruggen. The giant shuttlecocks were created and installed in July 1994. The artists say that the inspiration for making these giant shuttlecocks was the painting by Frederic Remington that features Native American men and women wearing headdresses with feathers as well as an aerial photo of the museum that seemed to resemble a tennis court. There was initial controversy surrounding the art pieces, but today the giant shuttlecocks have become a significant part of the local folklore and tourist attractions.
At first glance, these giant sculptures seem like an eyesore. They are huge protuberances that seem to ruin the aesthetic Nelson-Atkinson lawn. It is a green space anyway meant to be enjoyed for its aesthetic value. The giant shuttlecocks seem to be out of place and the way they are strewn across the lawn does not make things better. However, that is just at first glance.
At second glance, you begin to be amazed by the statutes themselves. They are 18 feet tall badminton shuttlecocks made out of fiberglass and aluminum pieces. You cannot help but fall in love with the workmanship demonstrated by this piece of art. Then you begin to think about where the crazy idea came from. The artists saw an aerial photograph of the museum grounds and thought that it looked like a badminton or tennis court. They incorporated Native American traditions with something as simplistic as a badminton ball. This makes the whole place look like a giant badminton court with giant badminton balls strewn across the place. The pieces of art are a reminder that the arts are as much about fun as expressing one’s self and talent. It makes me feel more comfortable about heading to the museum, which for many kids and adults, is usually a very dull place to be.
The shuttlecocks make me feel very small because of their enormous size. I do feel a little bit uncomfortable because usually a shuttlecock is supposed to fit in the palm of one’s hand. The enormous size makes me wonder at the extraordinary nature of ordinary things. Shuttlecocks are everyday badminton balls so no one really pays attention to them. However, at the nelson-Atkins museum, you have to pay attention to these ordinary things because of their sheer size. They make one realize that there are so many ordinary things that we take for granted yet they enrich our lives in so many different ways.
The giant forms of art make me laugh because I think of the alternate reality we could be living in. What if everything we thought was ordinary became life size and human beings were the miniature objects strewn across the globe? Life as a human would be very scary to say the least.
They are also the perfect attraction for the museum. Tourists will come from afar just to come and see the giant shuttlecocks. The shuttlecocks also serve as a welcome roadside attraction for those who are travelling across the region. It is bemusing as well as amusing how something as ordinary as a shuttlecock can be blown out of scale for the sake of art to make it extra ordinary. It is described as the ‘monumentalization o the absolutely ordinary’, a term art lovers and critics often use when they speak about the various art sculptures that Claes Oldenburg has created. The message here is clear: art is everywhere.