John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The artist behind the Palin-shaped public art has been informed: "You will be the next one to burn."
You'd think that folks who love both red meat and Sarah Palin would rally behind a sculpture devoted to both. But for some reason, the Tea Party is not happy with this BBQ smoker in the shape of the conservative firebrand's freedom-filled noggin.
News organizations have been rooting and snuffling around the immense Palin head, titled "We're Having a Tea Parody" (not "Pear-ody," as reported elsewhere), ever since mixed-media artist J. Taylor Wallace debuted it in 2011 at a Memphis public-art show. The anthropomorphic cooker hit the news again last week, when Wallace fashioned a meal with it to celebrate the opening of a new sculpture garden in Chicago.
A couple notes about its provenance are worth mentioning here. The sculpture includes an oven for smoking delicious meats because, in charming Southern fashion, that was a requirement for entry in the Memphis exhibit. The Palin element is there because Wallace wanted to make a statement about her rigid, some might say extremist ideology.
"I know Alaskans have their own issues up there, but helicopter-wolf killing is not what I'm a big fan of," he explains. "A terrifying prospect to me is, what if she was in charge of the Department of Interior?" (That could conceivably happen under the reign of President Newt Gingrich.)
The Palin cooker's current home is outside the Bridgeport Art Center, a cultural venue/housing project for artists in Chicago, where it stands like a screaming Moai head guarding the premises. In its trip from Tennessee to the Windy City, the sculpture has attracted a lot of attention, not all of it fawning.
"I've gotten some really lovely emails, like, 'You suck, and you'll be the next one to burn,'" says Wallace. Here are a few choice selections from the artist's inbox:
It is a matter of time till you are the pig, was it fun for you pig.
Enjoy your 15 minutes of fame by insulting someone. Looks more like a morph of H Clinton and R Maddow, anyway.
I noticed your work of art in the Chicago Tribune this morning. I am sure you are elated with the exposure you have received. Unfortunately, you obviously needed to accomplish this by using Sarah Palin (an easy target) as your inspiration. I hope the feminist groups in the United States take note of your efforts to humiliate a woman of intelligence, courage and leadership. The role model that these groups have promoted over the years to have the opportunity to become President or Vice President of our nation has been ridiculed by your "work of art". I work in the art field, totally enjoy creativity, am not a feminist, and am totally not impressed by your work. I feel sorry for the people of Bridgeport and visitors that will be exposed to your art.
"Amid the hate speech, I have also been called 'gay' in what is I presume an attempt to insult me by a particular demographic of individuals," Wallace says. This vehement opposition to the flavor-imparting Palin dome upset him, at first. "The point is to have a conversation.... For people to get so angry over a piece of artwork is surprising to me."
Perhaps their indignation could be explained by the work's unique design: When the smoker is in operation, it look like Palin's head is steaming with anger. Or maybe they read that one of the first things Wallace cooked in the stove was a pig with wings, a comment on some of her more out-there opinions. (See photo below.) But now he's reconciled with all the jibes and insults, and dreams of the day when the ex-governor herself stops by the Bridgeport center for a taste of his Carolina-style BBQ. "I think she would like [the sculpture], if she hung out with it."
For any members of the Tea Party reading: If you hate this thing and want it out of sight ASAP, perhaps the best thing to do would be to buy it. Wallace says it's for sale to anybody with $14,000.
Photos used with permission of the artist.