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The Cold Filtered Ramblings of Gene Mueller

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     "It's Us Or Fonzie, Pair Of Gallery Owners Threaten".


     That was the headline in Friday's Journal/Sentinel, the threat coming from Hotcakes Gallery owner Mike Brenner who says he'll close up shop and leave Milwaukee if the "Bronze Fonz" goes up downtown.


      The "Fonz", of course, is the proposed statue of "Happy Days" star Arthur Fonzerelli, which is coming ever-closer to actually happening.     A bulk of the 87 thousand dollars has already been collected, none of it coming from taxpayers but rather from civic groups and private donors.


       Brenner and another gallery owner think the Fonz is beneath us, a "monument to small town Milwaukee" and an icon to mediocre public art which they say our city has been plagued with for years.


      Art is meant to generate thought, so the Bronze Fonz is already accomplishing it's goal before it's metallic thumbs even get a chance to glisten in the Midwestern sunlight.       To actually LEAVE a city in protest over a statue, though, says more about the person making the criticism than the art itself.      


       It says elitist.     It says, "I think I'm SO much more refined than these local boobs that I just HAVE to go somewhere that will appreciate my obviously SUPERIOR  taste and sophistication."      And to that, I say, "Go."       Take your gallery and what you deem worthy and...just...leave.      Find a town that doesn't settle for artistic mediocrity.


       Heading to Chicago, Mr. Brenner?    You might want to avert your gaze when you get near the Bob Hartley sculpture--the bronze tribute to "Newhart" that sits near Navy Pier.       New York?     If memory serves, there's a memorial to Ralph Kramden of "The Honeymooners" sitting at a major transit terminal.      How about the Twin Cities?    That bastion of high art salutes Mary Richards of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" in all of her beret-tossing glory at the very intersection where the opening credits for the program were filmed.


       I love the Fonz statue, and the fact that the city is finally going to embrace the image that Hollywood thrust on us in the 70's and 80's.    "Happy Days" is nothing to be ashamed of, a tribute to 1950's Milwaukee from it's creative forces that millions watched without fail every week before it admittedly "jumped the shark".    No, it wasn't intellectually stimulating or culturally redeeming--it was innocent fun and something you could actually watch with your kids.       Go on the road and tell someone you're from Milwaukee and no doubt you'll get either the Fonz or Laverne and Shirley tossed back your way...that, or Dahmer.      Which would you prefer?


       It's one thing when the locals have at it over public art--beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder, and I think we have a right to opine when we, the taxpayers, are footing the bill.      But I've always thought that artists, and those who make a living in the trade, were the ones who were supposed to be open-minded and supportive of each other, allowing the works to speak for themselves while exposing we, the unwashed, to all forms so we can decide what is good and bad. 


        And, it won't be as if the Fonz will mess up any high-fallutin' plans for Wisconsin Avenue which is about to undergo some sort of municipally commissioned artistic transformation.       Original plans to plant the Fonz at Wisconsin and Water are gone, with the work  to be part of the Riverwalk.       You won't put an eye out on one of his thumbs as you scoot down The Ave--you'll actually have to search the Fonz out.


       We've had our share of arguments over public art in Milwaukee over the years--the Orange Girders at the lakefront, the proposed Blue Shirt at Mitchell International.    There are few, if any pieces, that everyone agrees on.      That said,   I can't ever remember anyone ever threatening to bolt if they didn't get their way.


      This is a no-brainer.     The Bronz Fonz is simple and fun.      It isn't being done on the taxpayer's dime.     It's an acknowledgment of something good that came to our city, a rare and sloppy kiss from the pop culture gods.         There's nothing wrong with puckering back.


       And elitist snobs who threaten to leave because of a chunk of bronze can kiss something else.       


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