If you take a complaint filed by Bath Township at face value, you might imagine that Robert Park, 72, has a pile of used car parts, busted lawn chairs and other garbage strewn haphazardly across his yard.
But if you accept an invitation to his Park Lake property in Bath, you’ll discover the reality is much different.
Park has created an elaborate modern art project that has been deemed junk under a township ordinance. If Park loses, he’ll face a fine of $250 and will have to tear down two years’ worth of work and pay for its cleanup.
“That’s the way human beings are throughout history. If there’s any type of new art form, they are very suspect of it and they don’t like it,” Park said. “They like the painting on the wall, the statue on the pedestal. That’s their idea of art.”
Driving down the lakeside curves of Bath’s Park Lake Road and a slight wind uphill takes you to Park’s home, where he’s lived since 1980. A peek around the corner of his house draws the first glimpse of “The Blue Loop” — Park’s pet project that’s come under fire.
“I told him, ‘Robert, the best advice I can give you right now is to declare this as art,’” said Bath Township Supervisor Jack Phillips. “What’s a liberal interpretation of the meaning of art? I don’t know. But I can tell you one thing, a judge will make a determination whether this stuff he’s got is art or not, and then we’ll go from there.”
Park said Phillips hasn’t seen “The Blue Loop” for himself. Neither has Bath Township’s attorney, Christopher Scott Patterson, nor ordinance compliance officer Dave Vincent.
But Vincent has seen photos of Park’s property, writing via email, “He has made a path through the woods and mounted all kinds of various items to the landscape. There were also brush piles and deteriorated lumber in the pictures I looked at.
The place is kind of a mess. I have never been on property so I don’t know if he has cleaned up anything. We are in contact with him and our attorney on where to go from here.”
So, what is “The Blue Loop?” It’s a trail of sorts repurposed from milk crates, beach toys, tubing, concession stand signs and bottles. The single largest cohesive structure on the loop is a sort of gravestone/tomb complete with a blue mesh bedding.
A collage of homemade anagrams are splashed across the trail, cut from various signs to form phrases like “Wild Blue Yonder” and “Blue Quantum Entanglement.”
Walking along “The Blue Loop” is somewhat dizzying. The blue contrasts nicely with the deep green foliage. The sheer amount of individual objects makes one feel like being in a tunnel.
There’s an obvious level of care and imagination on display. “The Blue Loop” doesn’t give an aura of outright thoughtless junk disguised as art, nor is it as controversial as, say, “Fountain,” by French sculptor Marcel Duchamp.
Park possesses a fine arts degree and teaching certificate from Michigan State University.
Last year, he held his exhibit “Quantum Entanglement” at (SCENE) Metrospace, which is operated by the Department of Art, Art History and Design at MSU. The mixed media works, which can be found with a quick Google search, show a detail-obsessed artist. Each piece of “The Blue Loop” is a microcosm of the attention that goes into a larger piece by Park.
Park detests the idea that the merits of his art are being debated by those with no real artistic background. His rallying cry comes from the basic philosophy of Duchamp: “Anything can be art and if an artist says it’s art — it is art, ” as Park put it.
So why is Park being charged? Neighbors complained, Phillips said.
The same thing happened in 2006 over his sculpture “Orange Mound.”
“Orange Mound” did not have as strong and obvious of a theme as “The Blue Loop.” Park said that Bert Gale, the township’s violation officer at the time, dismissed “Orange Mound” as outright junk. But the township’s complaint was dropped, Park said.
The new complaint was filed June 5, six days before the retirement of Bath Township’s ordinance compliance officer, Gary Cypher. Though Park said his replacement, Dave Vincent, has yet to see “The Blue Loop,” Cypher checked out the installation and told Park the decision would be left to the court, Park said.
“They were scratching their heads, but I don’t think they minded it,” Park said.
Park has sought legal help from the ACLU, but it declined to provide him with a lawyer.
“They’ve given me moral support, and they think I have a case. But they did say artistic rights are not necessarily as strong of a case as religious rights or political speech rights,” Park said. “I feel that it my right. I’m not doing anything obscene, there’s nothing here that’s politically, racially or ethically offensive.”
As word of Park’s indictment broke past the confines of Bath Township offices, he’s found support from Melissa Eggleston, who chairs of Bath’s Public Art Committee and owns Eggleston Gallery & Studios.
“We should support Robert. I am in support of his art. As far as the art committee goes, I feel that we were created by the township to support and bring about some public art to the area. For myself, I would want the township to not continue with this,” Eggleston said.
Should the complaint be dropped, or if the court rules in favor of Park, “The Blue Loop” will expand. Park has ambitions to include thousands of more pieces.
“I could conceive of working for the rest of my life on it.”