After analyzing how I would have dealt with the difficulties the installation crew was having, I turned my attention to the passers-by. They had come upon the button as unexpectedly as I had and I watched with amusement their startled reactions. Sometime during the afternoon I remarked to a friend who was also watching that this was a project that anyone with the resources could conceive, design, construct and erect, but only Oldenberg could call it Art and have people believe him to the extent that they would pay him handsomely for it. Furthermore, Philadelphia must be one of his favorite cities because he has had so much fun at our expense.
Altogether, aside from a touch of sunburn on my pate, I had a pleasant afternoon.
The next day, I again found myself on campus and decided to watch some more reactions to the button. Maybe the lack of a crowd failed to attract attention; maybe the construction barricades caused people to think that it was a base for something else; I dont know. Whatever the reason, there was very little reaction from passers-by, so I looked at the Split Button itself to see what I could see. What I saw was a plaything, a very expensive toy. I looked at this gigantic button and wanted to climb on it and slide down it. It looked like it belonged in some highly imaginative playyard. But as a playyard construction is not its intent. Its intent is as a work of art. So I looked at it as a work of art.
And I didnt see a work of art. I saw no meaning, no value beyond that of the metal content; no soul.
What I did see was sham, fraud, an abdication of thought, a loss of esthetic value; the results of a great willingness to accept as Art whatever an authoritative voice calls Art. I saw a monument to someones overinflated ego, an expression of supreme arrogance.
Claes Oldenberg is laughing. Not with us but at us. And we, his gullible public, are paying him to do it.
I have been told that the Split Button has a symbolic meaning. Perhaps it does, but that meaning is not apparent. I do not mean to say that a work of art is not valid if its meaning is obscure. A work of art may have many levels of meaning, some of which may be very difficult to reach. If all one first sees in a Rembrandt self-portrait is a portrait, or controlled chaos in Picassos Guernica, one should keep looking. There is more there, and one doesnt need a score card to find it. The meanings are there; they are integral.
This button is simply a huge, split button without meaning, without value, without soul. Any symbolic meaning it may have is not integral. It is laid on as an afterthought, and is not to be found within the piece itself.
If a piece causes a person to ask, as someone asked me on Thursday, Is this supposed to be sculpture? then perhaps we should ask ourselves whether it is in fact Art.
Depressed by what I had seen and not seen, I departed to ponder the meaning of nonsense, the value of worthlessness, the essence of soullessness.
-David Sherman, Supervisor, Mail Service