Quetzy’s Red Eyes

A vandal who defaced the Quetzalcoatl sculpture in Plaza de Cesar Chavez this week may have helped align the piece with the intentions of the artist who created it. The notoriously monochromatic statue of the mythological Mayan plumed serpent now looks out at the downtown San Jose skyline with red eyes aglow. That is probably closer to what the renowned sculptor Robert Graham had in mind when he conceived the artwork.

Quetzy, as it’s come to be known, was originally supposed to be a grand project—a multicolored bronze god, with magnificent red-and-green wings, standing three stories tall. But the idea was met with an epic close-minded freakout.

First, uptight old locals who were already appalled that downtown’s central plaza was at that same moment being renamed for a Chicano rabble-rouser, protested the expenditure on a pre-Columbian icon. Then, in 1994, a local Christian organization going by the Marvel Comics Superhero–inspired name “Justice Foundation” tried to strip the public money from the project claiming that it was an unconstitutional promotion of religion.

They associated Quetzalcoatl with the serpent from the Garden of Eden (Satan!) and with human sacrifice (a misreading of history, but whatever). To prove their point they cited the works of New Age hucksters Jose Arguelles and Hunbatz Men, as obscure then as they are now.

The lawsuit was dismissed, but in the course of things, the statue was defanged and downsized. Ever since the squat, gray-brown version of the piece was unveiled, many San Joseans have suspected that the artist deliberately dropped a turd on the lawn to retaliate for the city’s mucking with his more ambitious proposal.

But there’s no evidence of that on Graham’s online portfolio, which proudly displays the piece along with his many other civic monuments, including the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., the Charlie “Bird” Parker Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, and (ironically?) the Great Bronze Doors of the Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles’ Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

Of the Plumed Serpent, the late sculptor, an SJSU grad, said (ironically?): “It was created for the City of San Jose to symbolize the spirit of social harmony and diversity.”

The Fly is a weekly column written by San Jose Inside staff that provides a behind-the-scenes look at local politics.

28 Comments

  1. The art work, using the term loosely, that ” was created for the City of San Jose to symbolize the spirit of social harmony and diversity.”  create widespread disharmony among San Jose various diverse communities

    Red eyes make it look better.

    Better idea is to move “the turd” to Mexican Heritage Plaza where those who like or appreciate it could see it everyday in San Jose’s Center of Mexican culture and the rest of us who don’t like it would be happy

  2. Of the Plumed Serpent, the late sculptor, an SJSU grad, said (ironically?): “It was created for the City of San Jose to symbolize the spirit of social harmony and diversity.”

    Translation.

    The sculptor created a pile of crap to represent multiculturalism and political correctness.

    • A little back history is in order.  Prior to the plumed serpent, its exact site in the park was occupied by the city bell which was well over 100 years old back then.

      Being true to faux-multiculturalism, Mayor Hammer abruptly moved the city bell to St. James Park and filled the space where the city bell had been with the plumed serpent. Genuine multiculturalism would, of course, dictate the addition of historically significant symbols, not their subtraction.

      Mayor Gonzales followed suit and moved the city bell to North Market Street where it languishes as a symbol of multiculturalism as it really exists in San Jose.  Out with the old, in with the new, no sharing the park together.

  3. I think the poop statue reps downtown RDA really well.  The only thing they have built of status is the green toilets all over downtown.  So the poop statue is perfect!

  4. Revisonist history or what? There was very little if any protest against Quetzy before Robert Pena Graham had an inspiration to create a more humble earth statue than he had originally sold to San Jose. Among the Fallon Statue protesters that wrangled the commission for Lincoln High School alum Graham there was a general approval of the cement dog turd that he sent our way. Please consult newspaper articles of the time.

    If there is some culpability among our citizens for Mr Anjelica Huston’s insult it is probably related to the poor reception that his previous proposal for cowtown inspired gateway sculptures received. It is generally thought that he repaid the insult with an insult.

      • > And the real insult is that we paid a half-million dollars for it!

        I would have done it for $399,950.

        AND, I would have given the City a twenty percent off coupon for it’s next major purchase of a pagan deity sculpture.

    • There was a lot of protest against The Fallon Statue by the Hispanic community, so Susan Hammer and the public art committee threw us a turd crafted by a Mexican guy who is from San Jose.

      I own six works on paper by Mr. Graham.  They are far nicer works than the plastic park crap.

  5. I get tired of everyone thinking they came from kings.  Latinos all came from Incas and Aztecs, African Americans were all Zulus and Masai, and Europeans do genealogical gymnastics to find a coat of arms.

    It’s all rather silly.  Most of us came from peasants.  Get over it.  You’re not a King, a Zulu, an Aztec, or Anastasia’s long lost granddaughter.  You, like the rest of us, are the distant descendant of a peasant.

    • Everyone is thinking that? I think you meant that you think everyone is thinking that… somewhere. Nobody in this post has mentioned it. Besides, “kings” and “peasants” are specific types of people and Incas, Aztecs, Zulus, and others, are groups of people that included those two classes. You could say you came from a group of dwarves and it doesn’t imply they were all Grumpy.

      • Not everyone, as you note.

        However, the whole reason for a Quetzacoatl statue is to satisfy modern Latino activists with peculiar Aztec leanings.  If not for this “Latino as Aztec warrior” delusion, we would not have been blessed with the turd.

        Impertinent, by the way.  The word is impertinent.  Do not they teach spelling at Andover?

        • Ahh.. conspiracy. Always easier than trying to understand the multi-faceted workings of a bureaucracy. Please check my spelling for me. A modern Latino activist with peculiar Aztec leanings was mysteriously guiding my fingers as I typed. I’m surprised I didn’t write Stairway to Heaven, Parte Dos.

        • How the Hell is what he’s suggesting “a conspiracy?”

          Surely no adult believes that political operatives are generally honest about their motives?  The bureaucracy may have picked out which spot on the lawn the statue would be placed, but that’s about it.

  6. I really love the symbolism and mythologies around Quetzalcoatl, so I appreciate the idea of this sculpture, despite it’s ultimately horrible execution. Once I learned the story of how it all came to pass, I actually liked it more. I like the big F.U. to design-by-committee and your-mythology-is-scarier-than-ours restrictions. I hope this was the artists intent. The red eyes are a welcome addition. Maybe this piece can turn into a living project. I’d encourage more people to intelligently update our little expensive grey swirl. I refuse to refer to it as a turd anymore. I have more respect for it now.

  7. uhhhhh the red eyes are most likely the work of some northern set of mexican prison/street gangs – you know the ones who “claim” RED as there color and claim to be decendents of the aztecs… the ones who founded and control the grape & lettuce picker union and use the bird as the symbol for both the union and gang? you know the bird? the one some “artist” incorporated into the design of the sound wall along the “north side” of I280 just west of US101.

    But Mayor Reed and his Mayor’s Gang Task Force Gang task force say ther is no gang problem in San Jose….

    • “But Mayor Reed and his Mayor’s Gang Task Force Gang task force say ther is no gang problem in San Jose…”

      Surely they don’t really say that?

  8. Fitting for this post:
    By Burt Prelutsky
    “If an artist can’t be self-sustaining in a capitalist country as large and as rich as America, he should get into another line of work. It’s certainly not the business of the politicians and the bureaucrats, who you notice aren’t spending their own money, to support him and his artistic pipedreams.

    If 300 million of us have decided we don’t wish to underwrite inferior work, where do a handful of senators and congressmen get off wasting millions of our tax dollars to keep these dilettantes in beer and skittles?

    …Almost every time you read about a community going berserk over an art exhibit that is either sheer pornography or re-creates the Christmas crèche using animal blood and human excrement, you can rest assured it’s your tax dollars at work.

    Some years ago, I read about a controversial artwork that, for once, wasn’t underwritten by the feds. On that occasion, it was only the good citizens of Livermore, California, who got taken to the cleaners. And if it happened there, it can happen in your hometown. So if you notice your councilmen suddenly sporting berets and floppy bowties, and dropping a lot of French words into their conversation, hang on to your wallets.

    It seems the city fathers had $40,000 lying around, so they decided to commission a ceramic mural to grace the exterior of the new library. For some reason, they decided that the perfect artist was someone named Maria Alquilar. I’m not certain why, of all the artists in America who would kill for a $40,000 pay day, she was selected. Only a cynical old poop would hazard a guess that her selection may have had more to do with Ms. Alquilar’s ethnicity and gender than with her natural gifts. Whatever the reason, it obviously had nothing to do with her spelling ability.

    For when the 16-foot-wide work was unveiled, 11 of the 175 famous names had been misspelled! They included the likes of Einstein, Shakespeare, Van Gogh and Michelangelo. On the bright side, Ms. Alquilar got 164 of them right.

    In her own defense, the lady said, “The importance of this work is that it is supposed to unite people….The mistakes wouldn’t even register with a true artisan. The people that are into humanities, they are not looking at the words. In their mind, the words register correctly.”

    The city council, clearly not into the humanities, subsequently voted to pay the artist an additional $6,000, plus expenses, to fly cross country from her new studio in Miami to correct her spelling errors.

    Now do you see why it’s such a stupid idea to allow public servants to dabble in the arts? A private citizen would know better than to fork over the entire $40,000 before the job was finished. You or I certainly wouldn’t pay even more money so that Ms. Alquilar can repair the damage. She’d do it or we’d sue her ass in small claims court! But, then, you and I don’t go around commissioning art; we know there’s already plenty of the stuff lying around, and mostly without spelling mistakes.

    Hell, I’d sue Alquilar just for being so damn snotty, and trying to turn illiteracy into a virtue. Her mistakes were all the more ironic and her attitude all the more abysmal, considering the venue was a public library…”

    • I don’t object to public art.  I object to bad public art.  I don’t want our cities all being purely utilitarian, ugly monstrosities, just so we can save a couple of bucks.

      The problem, of course, is that milquetoast liberal weenies, each of them utterly in thrall to Political Correctness & multiculturalism, are incapable of selecting good public art projects, or at least bringing them to fruition (probably both).  The same could be said of their counterparts on the right, but since such people have zero political power here in San Jose, I’m not going to bother sharing the blame.

      You know what this city needs?  Another one of those ice skater sculpture dealies!  Remember that turkey, with the names of allegedly famous people who like to ice skate, or some crap?  It was just like, a plaque jutting from the sidewalk, with the names of prominent ice skaters inscribed on it.  They actually paid to have that built.  I’ve even seen it (if I got some of the details wrong, well, it IS eminently forgettable, after all).

      Personally, I’d rather they spent our money on a statue of Hitler or Stalin.  That would, at least, be interesting.  And if art ain’t beautiful OR interesting, it should probably be hauled to the dump.

  9. The ancient Greeks & Romans used to paint all their classical statuary.  And to modern eyes, it looked tacky as Hell (although it probably looked quite splendiferous to the average rube of 2300 years ago).

    I think the Quetzalcoatl statue was a mistake, but seeing as how we already paid for it and its here, we should probably find some more suitable location for it, such as in front of the library over in Alum Rock.  The current venue is far more prominent than such a mediocre and ill-conceived piece deserves.  Last time I checked, its not like Mexican-Americans in San Jose (or elsewhere) actually relate to Aztec pagan deities.  But it makes more sense to stick it in Alum Rock, I guess, than in Almaden.

    Besides which, Tlaloc is a much more evocative deity than Quetzalcoatl.

  10. “They associated Quetzalcoatl with the serpent from the Garden of Eden (Satan!) and with human sacrifice (a misreading of history, but whatever).”

    Wait a sec…is SanJoseInside.com seriously trying to cast doubt on the absolute concrete, indisputable FACT that the Aztecs sacrificed hundreds of thousands of war captives to their pagan pantheon?  Seriously?  We’re going to start lying about pre-Columbian history, in order to make it sound more like European history, so that Mexicans won’t feel bad, or something?

    Leaving aside the likely effectiveness of such a stratagem, when exactly did the truth come to be of so little relative value, that we casually discard it for an opportunity to pander to vanities that we could probably not pander to, and no one would even notice?

    If the author meant something else by what he wrote (and I hope he did), he should clarify it, because there’s really other no way to interpret that line, other than as an attempt to pretend that human sacrifice wasn’t one of the principal phenomena associated with Aztec society.  Hell, most of their wars were initiated for the explicit purpose of obtaining additional prisoners for their sacrificial rites.  This is not a matter of controversy.

  11. i love Quetzy! that sucks he was damaged, but i like his new eyes & it would be cool to see it more colorful. either way it doesn’t seem like people will stop talking crap about it (literally and figuratively) *sigh*

    • > it would be cool to see it more colorful

      I predict that you will get your wish.

      You will very likely see a much more colorful Quetzy.

      Call it “sponteneous community art”

  12. Quetzalcoatl is not here in San Jose california. It is in the vatican art collection ethonological Missionary museum. Stolen from the high plains of Mexico in the 15th century. A gift to Pope Pius X1, by Borgiano Museum of propaganda, Rome.
    It should be returned to it’s rightfull place. One but must look at the demise of the order, while it holds Quetzalcoatl captive.
    What was to be a sculptgure by Graham, to soften the cattle sculptures that never happened at the gate ways, began as a teepee type bronze sculpture. One could walk into the teepee. Who knows why. Mr Graham was asked how our children would percieve his design. He tersly said that , “what I have seen of the children here , It will take 3 generation for them to understand my work.
      He was given 75% of the money up front. $500,000.00. that’s $375,000, to the bank. Who’s bank we’ll never know.
      What ultimately evolved was a squat rattle snake that has the same face as the original serpent as the one in Rome. If that was not enough, the original was carved in stone. Graham cast his copy in plastic. The mercury News quoted the RDA as it being 2000 lbs. The cement pedestal weight was 2000 lbs the plastic rattle snake is 200 lbs. maybe.
      We own a plastic rattle snake with a 30 year life span. The only bronze is the plaque, and it was missed spelled by the RDA the first time around. Politicians are not good at choosing art for our city. Yet there they are the tonka toys infront of the stainless Steel City Hall. Quetzalcaotl, Fallon and the no name kid forever isolated on an island of cement. The curse of Quetzalcoatl is upon us. Unless the true god is returned and the plastic imposter in given a final resting place, we will never be at peace.  I’d say Mr. Graham had the last word.
    “Plastic”!
      Art

  13. I was born and raised in SJ, and I still find it amusing that after all this time you can’t write about this sculpture without everyone immediately recognizing it as “the poop”.  I remember being irritated that my tax dollars went to this thing. Some of the drawings which were given to the city beforehand showed something entirely different as I remember.  And yes, I remember it costing one or a half million.  Just embarrasing that someone was so clueless that while this was being sculpted, the person responsible for it from the City side didn’t say “hold on a tic…we’re not going to buy a turd…change your design”.  Not too insightful.

    And I also find it amusing that the author of this story seems to have purposefully left out the bulk of the turd in the photo.  But even that didn’t work.  People still know what it is.

    My family built a lot of Santa Clara Valley (my grandfather was EA Hathaway), and I think everything he built, even though they are just buildings, are much better looking then this thing.

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