Guilded Glory

A tall, naked man on the corner of Main Street is causing a stir in Downtown Louisville.

While not actually human, the nude figure is a 30-foot statue that stands on a pedestal in front of 21c Museum Hotel, the company that obtained the piece, titled, David (Inspired by Michelangelo).

Sculpted by Turkish artist Serkan Ozkaya, who currently resides in New York City,  David (Inspired by Michelangelo) is an homage to the original Renaissance masterpiece and its cultural legacy.

The nearly 3,500-pound effigy was acquired in 2010 by Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown of 21c. In 2011, it was transferred overseas from Istanbul, Turkey, to New York City, where it then traveled on its side via truck to its permanent location in Louisville at the corner of Main and Seventh Street.

“Steve (Wilson) met (Ozkaya in Istanbul) and learned about his artwork after he had built his first version of David (Inspired by Michelangelo),” said Alice Gray Stites, the chief curator and director of art programming at 21c. “The first project that (Wilson) did with Serkan (Ozkaya) was actually in 2009 when Serkan collaborated in Art Without Walls. …Serkan hand drew the front page of the April 10, 2009 (Courier-Journal). … He has had a long-standing relationship with 21c.”

Ozkaya originally created a double-size, golden replica of Michelangelo’s David for the Ninth International Istanbul Biennial in 2005. Based on a computer model from Stanford University professor Marc Levoy, Ozkaya’s sculpture was constructed out of fiberglass, steel and spray-painted gold. It took  a team of six people to complete the project in the course of six months.

“Like a child learning the Western history of art from badly printed books, we do not have access to the world of originals,” Ozkaya said of his decision to replicate David. “We can only fantasize and learn about them, accept them as we accept the sun and the mountains. I wanted to take the 3D model as the idea for the thing and recreate the most precious man-made object ever made, and one which I had never seen for myself. I took the liberty to imagine it twice as tall and in gold.”

Prior to the opening of the Biennial, Ozkaya’s sculpture collapsed shortly after installation. Following that setback, he restored the damaged replica and cast two additional copies. One remains in Turkey, while the other was installed in May outside of 21c.

“The piece is clearly made to be shown outside,” Stites said. “It is a work that is meant to be integrated into the urban landscape. It really becomes part of the architecture of downtown.”

It has also become a popular topic of discussion.

Almost impossible to miss, David (Inspired by Michelangelo) has caught many people by surprise, prompting a variety of responses.

“(I’m) maybe a little (surprised the statue is outside), but not really considering it’s in front of 21c and they seem to like to do some more modern things,” said Odd Chrysis, a Louisville resident. “Honestly I want to see stuff like that down the whole street; set up art pieces all over downtown. … I think that would be great and encourage local artists and artists abroad to come do installation pieces.”

While Chrysis is a supporter, other passers-by have formulated a bit of a different opinion on the unclothed model.

“I was a little shocked to see it on the street,” said Megan Doak, a visitor from Ohio. “I’m used to seeing naked people all the time – I work in an ER – but not in the middle of the street. I’m not sure I would want any of my little kids seeing it out and about.”

John Dalusio from Sarasota, Fla. also expressed some dissent toward the artwork, but due to its glowing color. “(It’s) much larger and anatomically correct (compared to the original),” Dalusio said with a laugh. “The main thing that stands out is the bright gold guilding. If it was (made of marble), toned down, it would probably be less gauche – less controversial, too.”

His wife, Mariann, however, argued for the value of bringing the grandiose statue to downtown Louisville. Having traveled to Louisville for only her second time, she was impressed with the shocking monument and what it signified of Louisville’s progress.

“I was surprised at what’s happening here (in Louisville),” she said. “It’s bringing a lot more sophistication to the city. I think it’s a beautiful little city. It’s a little hidden treasure, and I think they’re doing a lot to try and bring it back, which I think is a really great thing.”

It may strike both a positive and negative chord in the public, but 21c isn’t so much concerned about harsh criticism. The museum brought the piece to Louisville so that it might incite conversation and opinions.

“We’ve had a wonderful range of reactions, which is what happens when you put a thought-provoking work of art in the atmosphere,” said Stites. “(It’s) encouraging people to react in a variety of ways and hopefully engage in discussion about that work of art and other works of art and our downtown. … We always seeks to encourage the growth of public art in Louisville and other cities, (because) public art adds so much to the life of the community.”

Responses to David (Inspired by Michelangelo)

“21c continues to bring an amazing level of creativity, entrepreneurship and energy to Main Street with attractions large and small. This replica of ‘David,’ an internationally-known larger-than-life piece of art, provides Louisville residents and visitors a rare opportunity to admire and revel in such skill and scale.”
– Mayor Greg Fischer

“Woah! I love this. What a fabulous, exquisite sculpture – in Louisville? As I turn 40, I have a new appreciation for this kind of art. To me, it represents the accomplishment of maintaining freedom and independence in who you truly are. Every day, I strive for that as one of my newest goals.  This sculpture inspires me to do exactly that.”
 – Charla Young Lipsey, “Power to Change”

“He’s all man, baby. I’m surprised those Kardashian harlots haven’t bought the building across the street just to savor the view.”
– Terry Meiners, Clear Channel Radio and WHAS11’s “Great Day Live!”

“I think the statue on Main Street is a hoot! It adds humor and draws attention to our city.  It makes me smile.”
–  Carla Sue Broecker, Columnist for The Voice-Tribune

“I think it’s wonderful. It, and 21c, makes our town more memorable. When it first went up, we were out to dinner with friends. My wife and all the ladies wanted to see it, so we drove downtown just to look at it. We wanted to know what all the buzz was about. … THAT is good for Downtown Louisville.”
– George Lindsey, Radio Personality on 102.3 The MAX

“It’s big, gold and shiny.”
– Letitia Quesenberry, fine artist in Louisville 

“Modern day David would have a manscape – a lighting bolt carved in his pubic hairs.  Other than that it just makes me want to hit the gym a little more.”
– Tony Vanetti, Radio Personality on 95.7 QMF and one half of the Afternoon Underdogs on 790AM WKRD.

“I think (the original) ‘David’ is beautiful, in part, because it is marble. This looks like David’s flashy cousin from Vegas.”
– Mandy Connell, Midday Host on 84WHAS.

“I bet ‘David’ wishes they had turned the air conditioning down while this was being chisled.”
– Matt Jones, founder of and host of KSTV and KSR Radio.

“Athough the work wouldn’t be my first choice esthetically, I think that the conceptual nature of the sculpture can be yet another useful tool for 21C to educate a wider audience on the subject of contemporary art. Some can appreciate it for its scale and visual impact (or not), while others can choose to learn about the process with which it came to be. I find it a great addition to Main Street.”
– Bryce Hudson, contemporary artist in Louisville

Photos By CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune