The bar for public art is fairly low. Communities seem far more excited to have relieved a space from the vice-like grip of commercialism than actually following through with making sure that the art is any good. This is a serious flaw in public art, and one that even has the ability to make even the most ardent leftist turn their back on the very idea of it. Most ads have some sort of coherence, a viable message to parse — we know why they’re so bad. Public art just ends up being mostly underwhelming, and for the most part, that’s fine. It’s nice to think of the possibilities now that the space has been liberated. Which is why the work of Peter Tunney is so incredibly offensive to any sane person’s sensibilities. It’s ugly. It makes no sense. And it will (rightfully) turn many people off of the entire idea of public art. Death to Peter Tunney.
In case you have no idea what I’m discussing, here’s a picture of Peter Tunney:
Here’s the work he does:
This billboard is beside the Major Deegan Expressway, which greets commuters as they enter the South Bronx. The device he is employing is a portmanteau, a combination of the words attitude and gratitude. Get what he has done there? It is hideous.
Here, the artist has taken the words of Carl Sandburg and flipped a few letters. It is Tunney showing his “grAttitude” to the great poet from the Windy City. Tunney’s work is aspirational. Tunney would like everyone’s dreams to take flight, like Peter Tunney’s, through their mix of urban swagger and drive. You have to dream, Tunney reminds us. In an interview he explained the inspiration for the billboard project:
I was driving into NYC, and everyday, I’d see the same billboards. And it all felt so fake. I was just tired of these too-skinny models almost pretending to give each other oral sex. Or billboard about buying beer, stupid stuff. What if some rich guy put up a billboard that said, “Everything is okay”? So I just started talking about that, and then the next thing you know, the billboards went up.
That’s right. There’s not some benevolent non-profit that has contracted with Mr. Tunney. He spent his own money, personally contacting the owners of the billboards to subject us to this incredible mediocrity.
He’s also apparently disapproving of oral sex.
Here he explains the inspiration behind his catch phrase:
Well, it’s just come to me over a while that gratitude is not just something you say when you get what you want. I like the idea of putting it out there of gratitude as an action. How are you expressing your gratitude specifically? What is the physical manifestation of that? And I meditated about that.
Meditate on this, Peter. No one likes your billboards. Everybody thinks they’re horrible. At best, they’re infuriating. At worst, they’re offensive.
On the Queens-Midtown Expressway, Mr. Tunney posted a new sign a few weeks ago:
The sign that marks one “leaving the city of dreams” is at the entrance to two boroughs that hold the majority of the New York City population. These are the dreamers that will keep the city aspirational and hustling long after Mr. Tunney has exhausted himself of posting these inane messages on billboards around the city. But to the artist, these people are nothing – not worthy of their dreams. We’re only now privy to his dream of a debased artist in a permissive culture, where a hack with a few dollars in his pocket can ruin the idea of public art entirely. I show no gratitude. I hope Mr. Tunney feels only remorse.
Here’s a music video Peter Tunney directed for Nick Jonas:
It is the worst music video ever made.