AN OPEN LETTER TO JERRY SALTZ ABOUT OUR MONUMENTAL “KITSCHY MONSTROSITY” SCULPTURE OF THE LAST THREE NORTHERN WHITE RHINOS
Dear Jerry Saltz,
The two of us would like to personally thank you for critiquing our work. The very fact that you have written an article about our sculpture in Astor Place, The Last Three, is a huge success in our minds! By drawing attention to our art, featuring the last three Northern White Rhinos on Earth, you are helping us achieve exactly what we intended. The more people know about the plight of the rhinos, the more they will be empowered to get on board and create lasting change – so thank you for contributing to the cause.
However, there are just a few points we were hoping to correct you on. You wrote that we are a “saccharine sight” of an “ultrawhite couple – she resembles Nicole Kidman, he a young Christopher Reeve.” While we are big fans of both actors, and see no issue in being ‘ultrawhite’, we are proud of our cultural backgrounds and would like to address this point. Contrary to what you wrote, Gillie is actually half Indian. Marc is an Austrian Jew, who comes from a family of holocaust survivors.
Another comment we wanted to bring up is your mention about us being “ditzy and clueless when it comes to sculpture,” but with our hearts in the right place. Well, this is not entirely incorrect; our hearts are in the right place, and we appreciate your acknowledgement. Yet, we are certainly not clueless when it comes to sculpture, which has been further affirmed by the fact that you critiqued our artwork! We have been creating rhino art for the past 7 years, awareness for the cause. The Northern White Rhinos featured in our art are named Sudan, Najin, and Fatu. We sculpted them in this way, because we needed the piece to garner attention. We are proud your article has evidenced our success in this endeavor. There are countless works that you, a respected art critic, do not draw attention to. However, you chose to write an entire article about The Last Three, so thank you!
We created this sculpture with the conviction that the best way we could make an impact on the rhino trade was to create a platform that would raise critical awareness for people to engage with the cause. Action is necessary for rhinos to be saved from extinction. The Last Three is not just a monumental piece of bronze created in a vacuum. The sculpture has been aligned with an incredible augmented reality mobile app, which is both securing donations and educating users about the cause. In addition, a dedicated website has been created, again for the purpose of education, but also to collect goodbye messages to the Northern White Rhinos that will be used to put pressure on the Vietnamese government regarding the demand for rhino horns driven by their country.
We are glad you agree about “how tragic and destructive it is that we’re wiping out species faster than ever before,” but you also said, “had the punchy couple, perhaps, just placed these three standing rhinos, they would have had a presence that connected to the loss of these wonders. Instead they tried to be cute, smart, strange, mannered, and melodramatic.”
By no means were we trying to be cute. We spent a lot of time with Sudan, Najin and Fatu. We traveled to Kenya so that we could get to know them, study their forms, and model the sculpture off each exact animal. We wanted of people who encountered the sculpture to be able to form a connection with these magnificent creatures as well. Not just with rhinos in general, but with the exact animals that were impacted by a prior lack of action.
To answer your question, “The bottom one is standing with the next one resting on it, back to back – why? – facing up, and then supports the third one on its feet.” We want to let you know why. We are very experienced at creating wildlife art. Throughout the years, we have learned that uniqueness garners attention, a fact you will surely agree with. Again, increased awareness around the plight of the Northern White Rhinos has, from the beginning, been the ultimate goal of the work. We chose to stack Sudan, Najin and Fatu, rather than “just place these three standing rhinos,” in order to represent how precariously delicate their existence currently is. Each rhino on the sculpture must be perfectly balanced for it to work, just like nature itself. As one of our commentators put it, “it’s a monument to the ruthless dirty takeover of the planet by the human species, who is wiping our rhinos and much more in the process.”
What is art? According to your article, you believe that 95% of all public art is crap. To us, art is a visual communication of an idea, which creates an emotion in the viewer. There is no doubt that The Last Three fuelled emotion. We have received a humbling amount of positive feedback, and beautiful comments regarding our effort to save rhinos from extinction. In your case, the emotion was negative. Nevertheless, emotion is the outcome of what we believe to be good art. In that sense, the very fact that you have feelings about our work means we succeeded.
We are very passionate about art and conservation. At the end of the day, we have one mission in mind, which is saving rhinos. We appreciate you help, by drawing attention to our sculpture and the cause. Considering the fact that art is highly subjective, we have often wondered to what ends the words of an art critique achieve. However, with your article we have realized you are actually doing a wonderful thing by helping to spread the word about the Northern White Rhinos. In saying that, once more we would like to thank you.
Gillie and Marc.