Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

Please Don’t Stop the ‘Rubber Duck’

The ‘Rubber Duck’ Artist Must Be Stopped


This article is a little bit ridiculous. Not because of the horrible puns but because the author of the article, Kriston Capps, contends that Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck “sends an infantilizing message about the role of public art in cities.” I disagree; the presence of the Rubber Duck is fulfilling its role as a fun and whimsical way of enriching a community’s experience. There is nothing infantilizing about it!


Capps backs up her argument with these four main points:

  1. Florentijn was paid too much by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust for the installation as whole
  2. The Rubber Duck is only successful because of its affiliation with Jim Henson’s Muppets (I.E. Rubber Ducky song) and he sees this association as a type of subsidy
  3. Local vendors don’t get to profit on the Rubber Duck’s presence because Pittsburgh Cultural Trust & Hofman have strict licensing and merchandising arrangements for the Duck. The author contends that reproductions of the Duck would not infringe on the “intellectual copyright that Hofman can’t legitimately claim as his own”
  4. Capps argues that when cities bring in the Rubber Duck installation, they are losing an opportunity to show off local art


Personally, I disagree with all of the writer’s points (except maybe point #3, I am undecided on that one). Despite being at odds with Capps ideas, I do think her article illuminates a few questions for arts managers:

  1. What is the role of public art in cities?
  2. Should cities feel obligated to show local art before international art?
  3. What is an appropriate price tag for public art?

It also highlights how the most non-controversial piece of art can raise a fury. I bet the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust was not expecting such an unfavorable reaction to “the most G-Rated installation ever.”


Other work by Florentijn:



Big Yellow Rabbit, Sweden 2011 


5 comments on “Please Don’t Stop the ‘Rubber Duck’

  1. lcrowley2014
    September 10, 2014

    I disagree with Capps too (not for the first time either…he’s a big advocate of local DC art, which is great, but can be a little sarcastic for my taste). My take is, even if I don’t think the duck is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen – and I don’t – it is creating and adding to a dialog about art and it has involved people who may not otherwise interact with art at all. Much like the red ball project ( and Art Everywhere (

  2. evanjsanderson
    September 10, 2014

    I’d be thrilled if a giant rubber duck suddenly appeared on the mall! I mean, it’d never happen, but it’d be memorable! I see where the author is coming from, but I’d be more persuaded by his argument if it didn’t seem somehow personal and aesthetic rather than practical. Yes, I understand the point about it taking away from Local Art, but look at those pictures: hundreds of people engaging with his installations (even if they are ‘like diet coke’). Those people might go home, look up the installation on Wikipedia, and find themselves in one of the internet deep dives about other major contemporary artists. And that can never be a bad thing.

  3. shrulala
    September 12, 2014

    On the note of public art and theater, it reminds of the Royal De Luxe. Its an amazing company, with really “gigantic” visions – Chk it out

  4. alexgilbertschrag
    September 12, 2014

    As we saw with Janine Antoni’s art, this big rubber duck, as well as the other large artistic constructions, are causing people to stop, stare, and have a reaction to the art! Just like in class where some of us felt strongly about whether or not what she was doing was art and how it fit into the bigger picture.

    Although the duck doesn’t specifically belong to anyone city or country, I think it’s fascinating that in some ways this duck is bringing the world together by becoming international. It is well traveled and now recognized in more than one country. It’s bringing a connection between people who may not have had a connection before.

    Back in my hometown of Rochester, NY, we have horses on parade through the city that were painted by a variety of artists. In the city in general, they try to promote public art by having people paint on EVERYTHING. Even the little electrical boxes on street corners are covered in beautiful paintings. I think that putting art in cities adds to the brilliance of the place.

  5. torisharbaugh
    September 12, 2014

    Before reading this article, I looked at the pictures of works by Florentijn and thought to myself, “I need to go see these figures right now”. Then I read Capps argument and began questioning my initial reaction. Are these pieces truly art? How does money affect artistic value and integrity? Why am I so excited about a large children’s bath toy?

    We know these pieces are not thought-provoking works of art, but since when did we put requirements and guidelines on public art? There is something beautiful and engaging about the simplicity of Florentijn’s art, and I think it attracts a diverse group of people because it’s simplicity and awe-factor. The goal of these works are to get audiences engaged with art and I think this has achieved that goal.

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on September 10, 2014 by .
%d bloggers like this: