Desert Sun -- Some people will love them. Some people will hate them.
Either way, the gigantic 8-foot-tall babies that take four or five men to carry are guaranteed to elicit some type of reaction once they’re unveiled in downtown Palm Springs, crawling behind The Rowan. Judging by the conversation on Facebook so far, this is going to be the next biggest must-see, must-photograph art installation since "Forever Marilyn," before she left to make way for the downtown revitalization project.
"The 10 Babies," created by rebel Czech Republic artist David Černý, are currently in storage behind the Rowan Hotel in an underground sandpit where residential units will eventually be built as part of Grit Development’s downtown project. But until construction begins, the "Babies" will be set up in this area, in front of the Palm Springs Art Museum, so people looking down into the pit – especially from the hotel’s rooftop – will see them crawling about.
“We’re not in this to win a popularity contest but we want to create something that people will remember. Something that touches people, that will stay with them,” said Christian Hohmann, owner of Hohmann Fine Art Gallery in Palm Desert who helped secure the artwork. “Of course there will be ignorant people that will not care, but hopefully it will bring people to downtown to see it in person.”
The sculptures will be unveiled to the public on June 5, the same day as the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce luncheon, during which Michael Braun, president of Grit Development, will be recognized as businessman of the year.
At some point, they could be re-positioned to appear as though they are climbing up the side of the sandpit or be placed elsewhere in the downtown.
“Some people hate the "Babies," some people like the "Babies." That will create a conversation topic and people will want to see them. I think they look fabulous, personally,” said Braun.
It was the same story with "Forever Marilyn," which is expected to return to the downtown project once it’s complete. Some people loved the kitschy statue, taking the opportunity to stand below her billowing skirt for photos. Others were appalled.
What Braun said he has learned about the downtown project is that there needs to be more than the products on offer to attract people. He hopes the artwork will engage and attract people to the area who will in turn want to visit the shops and eat in the restaurants. And like "Forever Marilyn," hopefully they will become photo destinations.
He paid for the "Babies" to be shipped from Europe and then trucked in from the Los Angeles port. Once they arrived in Palm Springs, they had to be lowered into the pit with a crane. Braun declined to share how much the sculptures on loan cost, but Hohmann estimated it would cost "way over" $1 million to own them.
“It's a huge deal. This is a world-famous artist. He's been big time in the news," said Hohmann.
Černý is known for his bold and innovative sculptures like the London Booster, a double-decker bus fitted with hydraulic arms that does push-ups, created to help celebrate the 2012 London Olympics. He is also very polemic and began rattling cages when he unveiled his Pink Tank in 1991, which was essentially painting the Soviet Tank Monument in Prague pink which got him temporarily arrested.
Some of his other work that has aroused controversy include:
"Man Hanging Out" A sculpture of Sigmund Freud dangling from a rooftop.
"Saint Wenceslas" The Saint is sitting on top of an upside-down dead horse.
"Brownnosing" The bottom half of two oversized naked sculptures have a ladder that people can climb to enter the backside and watch a video of Czech politician.
"Piss" Bronze, gyrating mechanical men urinating into a pool of water in the shape of the Czech Republic.
"In Utero" Stainless steel sculpture of a pregnant woman kneeling and allowing people to step inside her to experience the womb.
When Braun decided, with city approval, to have art inside the empty pit, he reached out to Hohmann who is also responsible for securing the permanent "Isabelle" statue that sits in the middle of the redevelopment project. Just days before Hohmann had spoken to Černý, who told him about the city of Prague approving the rebuilding of the TV tower "Babies" due to wind concerns, thus making the original set available for loan.
“It was so serendipitous,” said Hohmann. “I told Michael. ‘You have to hear me out and have an open mind. Picture 10 babies crawling around here … and he did,' ” said Hohmann.
He gives Braun credit for jumping on board because the "Babies" are not the prettiest art installation, he said. All 10 Babies are faceless. The wide eyes, chubby cheeks and button nose typically associated with a baby has been replaced by a vertical barcode meant to touch on the dehumanization of society.
“He took the face away and put this stamp of a barcode … instead of what defines their individuality and their humanity. Especially with the way the world has become more digitized… we as a person really no longer count, only as a number, a unit, whether it’s a working unit or a consumption unit. By putting that on a baby it really touches people,” said Hohmann.
For Palm Springs to get the "Babies" is a boon, he said. The "Babies" in Prague can be seen from essentially all over the city and have become one of the most visible artworks in the world, he said.
And though Černý can be polarizing, he does what art is supposed to do — spark conversation.
“That really is what art needs to do. Not just give people what they want. But to make people think. To get them out of their comfort zone into a zone where they have to look at themselves and have an opinion,” said Hohmann.