Listen: there’s almost always a time and place for slapdash conceptual art, especially if it’s the product of mass collaboration. During a time in which coronavirus is ravaging the planet, causing just as much emotional despair as physical devastation, people are certainly entitled to look for creative outlets so that they can stave off stasis and boredom. However, sculptures all over the world are currently being discovered with medical masks affixed to their mouths, including “Fearless Girl” in New York City, a statue of Confucius in northern Taiwan and the Manneken-Pis statue in Brussels, Belgium. As vital as creativity is, it must be said: when there’s such a clearly practical and urgent need for medical masks all over the world, putting them on statues is baffling and just adds an extra note of confusion where there shouldn’t be one.
In the United States of America, supposedly the richest and most prosperous country in the world, there is a severe shortage of N95 face masks and a dearth of ventilators, the machines that severely ill victims of the virus will need in order to keep breathing and hopefully recover from their infection. Due to the fact that hospital workers and doctors are now being overrun in emergency rooms with new patients, they’re having to reuse medical masks that should really only be used once and have even resorted to wearing trash bags to protect themselves from infected people. Meanwhile, people all over the world are facing the conundrum of whether to don a mask themselves; reports have varied between stating they won’t help, imploring people to leave them for healthcare providers, and recommending their use.
The one thing we do know is that every single medical mask is precious, and should be moving in the supply chain directly towards the professionals that need it the most: doctors and nurses on the front lines of the pandemic, as well as their patients and anyone whose job still requires them to be interacting with the public in any way. Putting masks on statues doesn’t limit the amount that are going to doctors in any significant way, but this practice does promote a frivolous attitude about masks that the public certainly doesn’t need right now. When people are scared about protecting themselves and their loved ones, they need clear instructions about what to do, not topical attempts at public art. Artwork is still vitally necessary, but just not this particular attempt at gallows humor.