21 May


‘Rubber Duck’, like its maker Florentjin Hofman’s other work, is daft, kitsch, intellectually undemanding and entirely uncool. Yet its value, I think, lies in precisely these attributes. When was the last time the work of any artist celebrated on the front cover of Art Review or Frieze aroused general excitement, civic pride, despair at the prospect of it going away, or “limitless amounts of joy”? This last comment is from a discussion at the governmental level about the widespread positive fallout from Hofman’s avowed attempt to spread this joy. I certainly don’t think art can be or should be uniformly subjected to tests of popularity or popularism, but I also think that somebody except the artist and their friends should care about and connect with an art work.

Until recently the 16m tall duck was floating between Hong Kong island and Kowloon. Although described by the artist as a contemporary art work, which it is, the duck was brought to Hong Kong by a shopping mall as a promotional stunt. It’s very healthy that absolutely nobody seems at all interested in the sponsors and that the artist and his duck have gained far more publicity and kudos than the mall.

I say “until recently” because the joy came to an abrupt end when this happened:

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And it happened amid accusations of cigarette attacks by mainland China’s notoriously uncouth, vulgar tourists, the enmity of “duck haters” (yes, really) and various other conspiracy theories of the kind that run wild on Sina Weibo and its ilk whenever they get going on any subject even tangentially involving relations between Hong Kong and China. The most likely genuine explanation is environmental stress from the wind and waves, although the eventual face-saving Chinese style explanation was planned maintenance, i.e. “no, no, it’s not a PR disaster, we meant to do it.”

People had been coming from hundreds of miles away to see it, with a collateral commercial impact on everyone from street hawkers with yellow bath ducks (almost certainly made in neighbouring Shenzhen, the world’s factory) to hotels offering “duck view” hotel rooms. Rubber Duck’s untimely demise left many locals as jocularly or genuinely distraught as the Weibo user who wrote “Don’t die! I still haven’t had the chance to make a pilgrimage and come worship you, big yellow duck.”

Now let’s try to imagine anybody apart from their friends who work as curators or at art magazines giving a single, tiny fuck about the joyous arrival or the sad premature departure of absolutely any of the formulaic work done recently by critical young darlings like Haroon Mirza, Karla Black or Elizabeth Price who can apparently do no wrong…

OK, put down your pens, time is up. Anything? No, me neither.


2 Responses to “WHAT THE DUCK?”

  1. Alistair 26/05/2013 at 1:45 PM #

    Reblogged this on Alistair Gentry.



    […] up to WHAT THE DUCK? When the Chinese Communist Party talks more sense than many art wonks about the real (i.e. non […]

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