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Public Art and Controversy.





Standing38 feet, 6 inches high, between Barley Theatre and Artemus HamConcert Hall, the Flashlighthas been a spectacle to behold on Maryland Avenue in the Universityof Nevada, Las Vegas since its inatallatioon in 1981. Theebony-black sculptural work made by ClausOldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen was supposed to pull audience to theconcert hall by generating a night concept during the day and adaylight concept during the night(Holder).And since the campus was in darker environment compared to Las vegascity environment, the sculptors thought that the image of aflashlight would be the best idea and a representation of what thecampus needed.


However,the flashlight sculpture generated controversy from a number ofquarters, first because of its size and appearance. During itstransportation, the cargo was intercepted by a highway patrolman whothought that was a missile, while its own creators intended it toappear like a cactus plant in the desert and therefore aninspirational symbol(Holder).By inverting the flashlight sculpture, the flashlight sculpture wentagainst the expectation of many who thought that its lens would casta beam of light in the dark sky and therefore act as a landmark atnight. But the sculptors intended to introduce originality into thework, with a claim that having the flashlight illuminating the skywould have created a more mechanical concept and an authoritarianenvironment (Sodoma).


Theartwork was partially funded by the National Endowment for the Arts(an independent public agency), gifts from Robert Hawkins estate andlocal donations. The funding was not part of the controversy at all,as was its size, magnificent appearance and the position of itsinstallation (inverted). Funding such a project from public coffersshould be supported especially if the beneficiary is of publicutility. However such projects should be guided by clear fundingprocedures to avoid colossal amount from going to luxury projects atthe expense of the basic public utilities.


Comparedto the paintbrushes artwork, which represented two paintbrushescasting beams of rainbow-colored light in the sky (Peterson.),the Flashlight was more spectacular and never a disappointment to theaudience (artwork consumers). The Flashlight remains a beacon ofmonumental attraction in the campus. Its simplistic look sparksadmiration and curiosity, and this makes it suited in a learninginstitution, just like another artwork by the same artists, the‘typewriter scale X’ near Mandarin Oriental Hotel and crystalsshopping center(Labrador).However the artwork is different from other artworks in Las vegas,such as: the ‘Big Edge’ at the city center, (Labrador).This artwork looks flowerly and displays a concept of pomp andcolour- features of a luxurious, business-oriented, vibrant and loudenvironment

Ido not find the Flashlight controversial largely because of itssetting and what it has turned out to be, but rather, an exhibitionof amiable artistic skills which has remained relevant 33 yearslater.


Oldenburgand Coosje Van Bruggen’s Flashlightstill remains the most spectacular landmark in Las Vegas today. Thework was visionary and classic. The sculpture has ceased to be a marework of art and became the area’s monument that exceeds the purposeits inception.



Holder,Tom. “All of Las Vegas Turned On by the ’ Flashlight&nbsp `.”1988.

Labrador,Jorge. “Vegas Gambles on Public Art.” 2011.

Peterson.,Kristen. “Paintbrushes ? Really ?” LasVegas Sun. 2010.

Sodoma,Brian. “The Back Story : The Flashlight.” UNLVNewscenter. 2013.