The Indianapolis International Airport has canceled today's installation of a Justin Bieber-themed sculpture, "#belieb," by artist Tre Reising, explaining it "did not think it was ideal to focus so specifically on one particular celebrity, given recent news events," according to Indianapolis Airport Authority spokesperson Carlo Bertolini.
The Indianapolis Airport Authority agreed to pay Reising $500 to create the site-specific "#belieb," which consists of large, wall-mounted bubble letters in Comic Sans font that spell out the titular hashtag. It would have been installed on Concourse B and displayed for approximately three months as part of the airport's temporary art program.
The airport notified Reising yesterday that it would not be installing the piece. Indianapolis Airport Authority executive director Robert Duncan made the decision, in consultation with Bertolini, other senior leadership and the organization's board. Bertolini notes that the "arrangement [with Reising] was brought in under a more non-specific approach to blend hip-hop culture with fine art" and that "not until this week did we become aware of the specificity" of the piece.
Reising says he indicated on a contract signed approximately six months ago that the piece would be called "#belieb." But he qualifies that he "tragically" understands the airport's decision and that it would have been "terrible timing for them" to install the piece. He notes that he wants to maintain a "healthy relationship" with the airport, which, according to Bertolini, will reimburse him for his work according to his contract, pay for his travel costs, and is in talks to install a different piece by the artist (possibly this December, according to Reising).
In short, Reising says of the airport that "they are looking after me," but adds that he's "staging and preparing for a media release about my thoughts about the project and how art changes socially over time." He says the cancellation of the installation "almost better shows how conservative people are and how powerful art is."
Bertolini says that the airport "does have to play it safe in this kind of public space," adding that "some people get irony, some may not get it, and even those who get it may not be happy with the message," with respect to Reising's piece. He says the airport "takes the blame for some of the miscommunication" with the artist, and that it will try to be "more clear going forward on the realities" of the airport's public art program in talks with artists.
Further, Bertolini is careful to note that the airport's decision was "not an indictment of [Reising's] style or approach." Nor does the airport believe it's practicing censorship. "It clearly states we have the right to make changes that may be necessary," Bertolini says. "We're not trying to steer [any artist] in any direction, but we have the responsibility to strike the right balance."
Reising, who says he "saved up money and took a month off of work" to create "#belieb," thinks that the airport's decision is part of a "larger phenomenon" pertaining to issues of fame, conservatism and public art. "We're giving this kid so much power - he made the news just for being a 19-year-old," Reising says. "The only difference is that he's so much richer. People signed a petition for Justin Bieber to be deported, and it got so many signatures that the fucking president has to address it."
He notes of his work that "the way media coverage participates online is very important to me," and that it "would have made national news in the airport" had the piece been installed.