I Know How PZ Would Answer The Question. Or Maybe I Don’t.

Inspired by Mano Singham’s recent post sharing a video tour of the Hammer Gallery, I feel it is time to play another round of the game, is it art, or is it a bicycle rack?

That’s a question that’s so old it’s been plaguing homo sapiens since perhaps before the beginning of our current geologic epoch. More to the point, it’s a question that has been the source of giggle between my best friend and I for a good twenty years. We’ll be drawing heavily from bikerackaroundtheworld.blogspot.ca for examples, the first of which shows that our question can be decidedly difficult to answer in places like Burma:

This diamond-pattern bicycle rack is located in Burma and was submitted to bikerackaroundtheworld.blogspot.ca by a reader.

Though I’m assured by the blog Bike Rack Around The World that this is intended to be a bicycle rack, the relative delicacy and unfamiliar diamond pattern make this fence-like metal object seem unnecessarily difficult to use when attaching bike locks. Without seeing a bike actually locked to it, I’d be unlikely to think that this was intended to be a bicycle rack. Even with a bike attached, I’m not sure it definitely seem a bike rack to me, or if I would simply interpret the situation as another example of the (nearly-)pan-Eurasian willingness to lock a bike to almost anything.

While in New Orleans, Louisiana there is a boundary-crossing bicycle rack with only a toe over the line into the realm of sculpture:

The lack of a path to block and the pipe feet at either end that are clearly larger than necessary to support the object itself both make clear that this visually attractive object is, at heart, a bicycle rack. Yet again, this picture is taken from bikerackaroundtheworld.blogspot.ca

This European photo (of unspecified country or city of origin) comes to us via BuzzFeed, and presents its own questions:

Clearly a custom contraption, someone has carved out a seat near one end of a bicycle rack, then added wheels, gears, pedals and steering. When it is parked, does it become a bicycle rack? If it does, what impact will that have on the rider? And yet, how can it not be a bicycle rack when 90% of the thing started out as a bicycle rack and still exists unmodified as part of the final object?

Further, while it would be terribly difficult to say that this vehicle does not send a message, is it fair to call such a rectilinear, ugly contraption art?

What about this:

This wine rack is made in the shape of a penny-farthing bicycle.

It’s clearly a rack. And it’s clearly in the shape of a bicycle, even if it doesn’t have the function of a bicycle. But except for that one terribly odd example immediately above, there may be no bike racks in the world that function as a bicycle. But is it misleading to call it a bicycle rack? And if so, should it be called art? Does it matter to your answer that they are mass-produced and sold on Amazon?

In Chiang Mai, Thailand and Beijing – and probably many other cities with whose bicycle cultures I am less familiar – residents are notorious for locking bicycles to almost anything. And yet, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily difficult to spot a bicycle rack made to be a bicycle rack:

An over-large bicycle rack with a shirtless Vespa rider in the immediate background, possibly in Chiang Mai. Again courtesy of bikerackaroundtheworld.blogspot.ca

Or does it? The size of the rack itself as well as the spacing of the vertical bars tells us that this may very well be intended more for motorized scooters than human-powered bicycles. It’s almost certainly not art, but is it a bicycle rack? That is deceptively difficult to say. Now we are having trouble not only with the definition of art, but also with the definition of bicycle rack. Harrumph.

Perhaps to lighten the mood (if shirtless Vespa riders did not lighten it for you already) we can examine this NYC bicycle rack photographed in Little Italy showing off its neighborhood pride:

A pair of bog-standard bicycle racks painted green on the left third, white in the middle, and red on the right third, mirroring the colors of the Italian national flag. bikerackaroundtheworld.blogspot.ca

While it certainly can be used as a bike rack, it can also be (and is) used as an anti-car barrier for street fairs and clearly intends to send a nostalgic, prideful, or emotional message besides. In fact, when it functions as a car barrier, it may also be sending another message encouraging the social gatherings that are so crucial to making a street fair a fair. Few people wouldn’t call it a bicycle rack, but is it art yet?

All of this, though, is but stage dressing (reef dressing?) for our ultimate puzzle-picture:

A steel sculpture consists mostly of a stylized squid-body, with the mantle made up of separately bent metal sheets, giving the stylized animal an apparent (but erroneous) ecdysozoan appearance. However, the arms and tentacles, frozen in their undulations, produce many good locations for locking up your favorite pedal transport. Courtesy of Laughing Squid, originally located at https://laughingsquid.com/giant-squid-bicycle-rack/

This chrome-plated cephalopod is located in Seattle, and was intended from the get-go as a visual attraction, a minor climbing structure for very young adventurers, and as a convenient, secure location for temporary bicycle storage.

Is this a bicycle rack? Cthulhu’s penny-farthing-obsessed maiden aunt only knows.







  1. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    It’s a great place. I’m up and down the Pacific coast fairly frequently, and though I spend more time in Portland, Seattle is always a great stop.

  2. Callinectes says

    Half of these seem to be an issue of language, or rather, poorly defined terms. The rest is merely a matter of whether a bike rack is determined by intention or function, and if by function, how exclusive that function has to be. The squid has more functions than merely a bike rack, though that may be its intended primary function, while another multi-function object that serves as a bike rack, ie a lamppost, is not usually counted.

    Most such quandaries stem not only from the absence of such rigidly defined terms, but also the hesitancy in deciding on what they should be. It seems we’d much rather pretend that the strict definitions already exist, then attempt, through argument, to locate them. A fool’s errand. Be bold! Be arrogant! Just devise a strict rule-set as wisely as you can and stick to it until you are given good reason to make alterations.

  3. says

    this is intended to be a bicycle rack, the relative delicacy and unfamiliar diamond pattern make this fence-like metal object seem unnecessarily difficult to use when attaching bike locks

    Darn those post-modernists! They are culturally deconstructing our notion of the bike rack.

  4. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says


    nicely played.

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