x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Artist sends bold message on US debt

The Life: An artist discusses a new structure he put up near the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, which features "USA" on one side and "IOU" on the other.

The letters 'IOU' spelled out on shipping containers stands across from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Orlin Wagner / AP Photo
The letters 'IOU' spelled out on shipping containers stands across from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Orlin Wagner / AP Photo

Across the street from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, a foreboding tower of shipping containers has recently been glowering at the building spelling out an in-your-face message: "IOU."

On the other side: "USA."

The 20-metre-high structure by the artist John Salvest is made up of 117 carefully-aligned cargo and storage containers - the kind that travel the world's rivers and oceans aboard ships.

The piece is creating a buzz in Kansas City as debate about the national deficit surfaces as a key theme of the upcoming presidential race and budget shortfalls are the top concern in the nation's statehouses.

The artist behind it says the message is open to interpretation. But the symbolism of shipping containers stacked tall in the shadow of the city's Federal Reserve building can be taken as a slap at a government groping for ways out of its debts.

"Obviously the inspiration was the national debt problem," Mr Salvest said from his home in Jonesboro, Arkansas, where he teaches at Arkansas State University. "But that trickles down into a lot of peoples' lives, and I think a lot of people are frustrated or angry or worried about their economic well-being."

Since the piece went up this month there have been more than 50 visitors a day, said Stacy Switzer, the artistic director of Grand Arts, the nonprofit Kansas City gallery and sculpture studio that funded the project.

"We've gotten everything from 'when is that ugly thing coming down?' to people coming out of the Fed's Money Museum saying they may not like the looks of it but they understand it," Ms Switzer said.

The "IOU" side faces the Federal Reserve's new building and is fully visible to employees from windows looking directly out on to the park.

Bill Medley, a spokesman for the Kansas City Fed, says the bank is not commenting. The work is set to come down next week.

The Quote: I have heard many interesting comments … [including] that IOU/USA had become a popular spot for wedding photos. - the artist John Salvest on reaction to his latest work

* AP