BRITA - FAIRFIELD COUNTY WEEKLY
April 1, 2004
More Than One "Big Baby" in Ridgefield
Driving the eight-mile stretch
of Rt. 33 into Ridgefield, palatial homes roll past in soothing neutral
tones like beige, white and gray. Tall trees still awaiting spring
leaves line the winding road. There are wooden fences and long stone
walls. Except for the new gleam of the paint, or the faultless symmetry
of the windows, one could imagine that not much has changed from the
village's incorporation in 1709. After passing this pristine testament
to old New England, one's eyes are drawn, suddenly, to a strange statue
jarring the sameness of the homogenous landscape. It's "Big
Commissioned by the Aldrich Museum
from 36-year-old Brooklyn artist Nina Levy to commemorate their huge
expansion project, "Big Baby" sits facing Main Street on his
own wooden bench. He is 7 feet tall, 200 pounds and clad only in a
bulging white diaper. Wearing an expression halfway between uncertainty
and expectation, his blue eyes opened wide, "Big Baby"
stretches his chubby legs and reaches his fat hands to the street as if
saying "Hug me. Love me. Please?"
Not everyone in Ridgefield feels
the stirring of maternal instinct. Some longtime residents are downright
outraged. "Baby Taints Village" crows the headline in the Dec.
"Letters to the Editor" page. "I have for years proudly
showed Main Street to out-of-town visitors. No more," writes Robert
Jones of Branchville Road. "Main Street has been turned into Coney
Island East by the presence of The Baby." Barbara Watson of Nod
Road writes in the Dec. 18 issue that the statue is "an
insult," "disgusting" and asserts that "there are
many people young and old who despise it.
"I am surprised no one has spray
painted it yet," she continues.
Certain residents once showed warm
affection for the giant infant. When he was installed last November, one
resident decorated him with a hat and scarf. Another gave him a sign
that read "Welcome, Baby Jesus." But "Big Baby" also
became a target for more malicious Ridgefield mischief-makers. Under the
cloak of night on Jan. 2, two young men held a road flare to "Big
Baby"'s left fiberglass cheek, attempting to set him on fire. A
passing motorist stopped and chased the vandals off, but the damage was
done. After reconstructive surgery by Levy at Jim Felice's autobody shop
in South Salem, N.Y., The Baby was reinstalled March 19 and a security
camera added. But with historic district regulations preventing any
night-time illumination and the baby's innocence and size inviting
response, the tension remains.
"Everybody is projecting what they
want onto this baby," says Amy Grabowski, the Aldrich's public
relations director. "If it was an abstract sculpture, I don't think
it would be a big deal, but it's a baby." She stresses that a lot
of folks missed the big guy after the trauma. "I've had at least
five phone calls from moms in the last month saying, 'When is the baby
coming back? We've really missed the baby,'" she says.
The artist, watching the chaos unfold
from afar, was not surprised the piece was vandalized, since that's the
nature of public sculpture. But having raised ire with her mostly nude
adult women and men pieces, often shown with heads floating above their
bodies so that they only look whole from specific angles, she was
surprised something so benign as a diaper-clad baby would spark such
controversy at all.
"I think there was something to
picking the most innocuous, ingratiating image possible, although it
didn't necessarily win over everyone. And I softened it up. Originally
it was screaming and much more aggressive. I decided it was large enough
that it really didn't need to be screaming," she said. Were the
statue in Brooklyn, Levy says, she couldn't imagine getting the same
degree of response. "I'm incredibly flattered that people would
bother to get worked up over temporary sculpture," she says.
"Not that I enjoy irritating people, but that they would care that
much is lovely. In this neighborhood [Williamsburg, Brooklyn], most
people wouldn't take an interest or they would just wait for it to go
Levy's earliest work was crafting dolls
for a collectibles company, which bled into her artwork in the form of
hanging baby heads. These pieces, a decade old, still resonate with the
pubic, making "Big Baby" a natural extension. Except she got
pregnant and gave birth to a son just prior to sculpting and that
"I had an entirely different spin
than the previous work which was about dolls. Maybe against my better
judgment in some ways, because my previous images of babies were very
ironic and made by someone who had no actual contact with real live
babies. So this one is quite different and much less ironic. And it
struck a chord with the museum for many reasons, not least of which was
the new building."
For the Aldrich Museum, opening in an
entirely new space behind the former Revolutionary War-era historic
building in June, a baby, especially a big one, is the perfect
complement. With construction well under way, the ground upturned, the
site surrounded by metal fencing and crawling with construction workers,
"Big Baby"'s visual metaphor--a new, welcoming, artistic
entity--could not be missed. His face dusted with rainwater, his cheeks
round and toes curled, he is innocence personified.
But Ridgefielders are a sensitive bunch.
"The baby is not only totally
inappropriate and unattractive," wrote Hope Swenson of Wilton Road
in the Dec. 11 issue of
The Ridgefield Press
, "it also seems in dire need of a diaper change."
Levy laughs off this particular
criticism. She toyed with the idea of an entirely nude baby, saying,
"I admit as a new mother who is totally infatuated with how lovely
my son is, I did consider not having the diaper, but it was only
brief." Instead, she modeled the white diaper after "a
commercially-available disposable diaper, so it has a sort of large
bulge in the crotch which some people found upsetting. But I observed
that most disposable diapers look like that even if they aren't
In May, Big Baby and the bulging diaper
were to be permanently removed for the installation of the next piece in
the new and indefinitely-ongoing Main Street Sculpture Project. But
Grabowski says the Aldrich now intends to keep "Big Baby" and
install it between the old museum and the new. Take that, baby-haters.
The new sculpture coming in May will be Jon Conner's "Self
Sufficient Barnyard (the annual amount of livestock needed to feed a
family of four)" featuring 41 Styrofoam animals including a cow, a
goat, a pig and at least 12 chickens. If Ridgefield residents find farm
animals as offensive as babies, readers of the
are in for a treat.
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