Arts Desk

Manon Cleary: Bicycle Musician Artist’s Rats “Look Like Dinosaur Embryos with Tails”

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For this week's print Washington City Paper, I wrote about a proposed piece of public artwork, Bicycle Musician, that would've stood in the plaza at the northeast corner of 18th Street and Columbia Road in Adams Morgan. The work by Pittsburgh artist James Simon was derailed by a letter-writing campaign last fall—at least partially because its final proposal involved an exaggerated bronze rat that would've lurked on a bench in the plaza. Adams Morgan's rats are "one of our bigger problems in the neighborhood,” Denis James, the president of the Kalorama Citizens Association and a vocal opponent of Bicycle Man, told me earlier this week. On the other hand, the panel of neighborhood residents that recommended the inclusion of a rat envisioned it as a playful ode to Adams Morgan.

But I left out a little bit of rat-related Adams Morgan art history, which Manon Cleary pointed out to me in an e-mail last night. A celebrated painter and a longtime fixture of Washington's art scene, Cleary was the subject of a lengthy and excellent City Paper profile by John Metcalfe in July 2004. For the cover, Darrow Montgomery captured Cleary and her pet white rat, Boo Boo.

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James Simon's Bicycle Musician rat

Cleary has owned rats and painted them; she's undoubtedly an expert. So she takes some exception to the rodents that James Simon depicts:

The only problem I have with his rat(s) is that he doesn't know their anatomy...............they don't have rows of teeth and if you open their mouth you will see they have fangs instead of bottom teeth (that look like top teeth  and two razor sharp teeth on top.  The Brazil rats are sort of offensively un-rat like.  Who knows, maybe the rats of Adams Morgan voted 'cause they were personally offended by how he portrayed them.

his rats in Brazil look like dinosaur embryos with tails.

Here's a PDF of Simon's final Bicycle Musician proposal (the rat is on page 6). Here's his rat installation from Brazil.

Top photo by Darrow Montgomery.

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