Florentijn Hofman's giant rubber duck was a success long before it began nesting alongside Point State Park last month. Primed with childhood nostalgia and reports of the duck's popularity in China, Pittsburghers almost had no choice but to like it.
Which raises the question: Is the now-departed duck really a great work of art? Or merely an artistic franchise opening in a new market? Shouldn't art risk something — even the public's displeasure? For art to truly succeed, shouldn't the artist have to risk failure?
By that standard, most Pittsburghers missed the real work of art that recently plied the Allegheny River.
On Oct. 13, a group of guerrilla artists calling themselves the "Entropy Syndicate" (http://entropysyndicate.es) launched an oversize can of Campbell's "Duck Soup" from the riverbank opposite Hofman's duck. Within seconds, the work proved its aesthetic merit by tipping into the water and being reduced to waterlogged tatters. The project would barely have made a ripple had it not been for City Paper photographer Heather Mull, who documented it with these photos. (We've obscured the artists' faces so as not to jeopardize their shot at future MacArthur Genius Grants.)
The giant soup can "was designed as a tribute to a great man and visionary artist," a Syndicate representative said in an emailed response to City Paper's queries. "I am speaking of course of Groucho Marx." But "in a last-minute artistic decision, we decided to float the can sideways. Unfortunately, the label was made of paper, which we discovered is not resistant to water."
The sculpture's disintegration "was a fitting statement on the fragility of life," the collective insists. It does acknowledge, however, that "It has been suggested that we make the next version waterproof."