Like most thought-provoking art, the “SOL Grotto” installation at the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley intends to spark conversation. But conservative critics are conflating the issues behind the art in a shameless political ploy to influence voters.
Because of the installation’s materials, the Republican-dominated House Energy and Commerce Committee dubbed SOL Grotto the most expensive piece of art ever — a disingenuous and incorrect claim. The remarks are based on the fact that the artwork is composed of more than 1,000 glass tubes originally intended for use by Solyndra, a Fremont-based solar cell manufacturer whose bankruptcy last year became a highly politicized event.
The company had received a $535 million loan guarantee from the Obama administration.
In the committee’s view, the botanical garden piece is therefore insensitively created from the ruins of millions of dollars of public money. But that is not the case.
Yes, Solyndra essentially defaulted on the taxpayers’ dime, and that is unfortunate. However, the tubes used by the artists account for only a fraction of the millions of tubes that were destined for Solyndra, according to the San Jose Mercury News. So placing the SOL Grotto at the top of a list of multimillion-dollar art pieces like Paul Cezanne’s “The Card Players” and Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” is absurd on its face.
Furthermore, the tubes were doomed to be destroyed, and bankruptcy attorneys determined they no longer had value. The botanical garden is not the only one turning Solyndra’s trash into treasure, either — the Mercury News reported that another artist turned some tubes into a chandelier. And JIT Transportation, which was left with the tubes when Solyndra went bankrupt, was desperately trying to get rid of them. Solyndra’s tubes are getting better use as art rather than ending up in a dumpster.
The House committee shouldn’t decry this artwork simply for provoking commentary on a controversial issue, whether intended or not. Another commentator condemned the artwork as a “mockery of Solyndra’s failure,” which resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs. This is a serious concern, but the artists did not create the grotto in bad taste.
It is all too convenient that, in the middle of an election season, conservative politicians would be raising a ruckus over what should be a nonpolitical piece of art. The House committee seems to be using SOL Grotto as an opportunity to slam the federal government’s poor investment in Solyndra. Yet the two issues are distinct from each another, and the committee deceives the public by merging one with the other and omitting important information.
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