This Pool-Shaped Sculpture Pays Homage to Van Gogh's Missing Ear

Web Museum, Paris, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Web Museum, Paris, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain / Web Museum, ParisWikimedia Commons // Public Domain

No one quite knows how Vincent van Gogh lost part of his left ear. Some say the Dutch Impressionist cut it off in a fit of depression after discovering his brother was engaged. Others claim that artist Paul Gauguin sliced it off after van Gogh threw a wine glass at him.

Regardless of what really happened, the story became an inextricable part of the 19th century painter’s legacy. Now, The Guardian reports that this spring a public artwork in New York City—an empty, ear-shaped swimming pool—will pay homage to the mysterious and grisly piece of history.

Berlin-based artists Elmgreen & Dragset (Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset) created the quirky sculpture, which is fittingly called "Van Gogh's Ear." It officially opens to the public on April 13 and will remain on view through June 3. 

The 30-foot high sculpture will sit on Fifth Avenue, right in front of Rockefeller Center. At first glance, it looks like your typical retro backyard swimming pool, complete with diving board and metal ladder. (Elmgreen & Dragset have created similarly inspired works in the past, including a diving board that hangs out of a window and the wax form of an art collector lying face down in a swimming pool.) Thanks to their chilly Arctic childhood, the Scandinavian artists “have an ongoing fetish with swimming pools,” Elmgreen told The Guardian. However, this particular pool is more “ear”-shaped than kidney-shaped—a silhouette that’s equally evocative of van Gogh as it is 1950s California.

Elmgreen and Dragset intended for the pool to conjure leisurely, sun-soaked afternoons, which juxtapose with both van Gogh’s grim life and New York’s stark urbanity. “The pool has the ambience of California, the plenty-of-space good life from the 1950s and 1960s,” Elmgreen told The Guardian. “And that is everything the Rockefeller is not, which is busy, east coast, dense and urban. We thought it would be interesting to put that symbol of the good, middle-class leisure life out in that environment.”

According to Artnet News, the pool sculpture was installed courtesy of the Public Art Fund, a New York-based non-profit that offers free art exhibitions to the public. (In 2009, Public Art Fund brought Jeff Koons’s Puppy statue to the same spot.) When it’s done showing in New York, the work will travel to China. In the meantime, expect to hear an earful (sorry!) about the sculpture from New York's art lovers.

[h/t The Guardian]