It doesn't exist yet, but Seattle's infamous nude sculpture already is the best work of public art in this city in years. Why? Because people are talking...

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It doesn’t exist yet, but Seattle’s infamous nude sculpture already is the best work of public art in this city in years.

Why? Because people are talking about it. And it’s not just that they’re talking. It’s what they’re saying. The sculpture “Father and Son” — rather, a rough sketch of it — is eliciting strong emotional reactions from those who see it, ranging from joy to alienation to revulsion.

Not since Subculture Joe fixed a ball and chain to Hammering Man has anyone much noticed the city’s mostly bland, vanilla public art, let alone been moved by it.

Just the idea of a nude father and son reaching for one another across a watery, 8-foot gap has prompted more than 300 e-mails to the Seattle Art Museum, which hopes to install the privately funded work in the Olympic Sculpture Park.

Complaints that Louise Bourgeois’ design somehow evokes sexual abuse are getting most of the attention. Pastor Joseph Fuiten of Bothell’s Cedar Park Assembly of God Church urged the museum this week to reject the sculpture.

“I call the proposed piece ‘Seattle’s monument to pedophiliac grooming,’ ” Fuiten wrote on his Web site, Faith and Freedom Network. “It suggests that a naked adult male reaching for a naked boy is somehow normal. We put people in jail who do this in real life even if they are called ‘Father.’ “

This carnal and twisted interpretation never occurred to me when I looked at the sketch. But of course I’m not a pastor.

The other notable personality who sees something perverted going on here is KOMO-TV’s pundit, Ken Schram.

“The sculpture might as well be called the priest and the altar boy,” Schram said in an on-air commentary, insisting, a little too emphatically, that his objection was “not about the penis.”

Good art can have layers of meaning, and this work is provoking more than just contrived controversy over nudity.

One e-mailer to Seattle Times art critic Sheila Farr said the sketch filled her with sadness over the estrangement between so many fathers and sons.

“This sculpture just left me feeling like I wanted to scream — LET THE FATHER SHOW LOVE AND STRENGTH TO HIS SON!” wrote the Redmond woman.

Another e-mailer said he saw hope in the notion that a father and son would attempt that reach.

“If it was a statue of me and my father, we’d have our backs turned to each other,” he wrote.

When I saw the sketch and read the description of the fountain, I thought of occasional baths I take with my 3-year-old son. (Yes, Pastor Fuiten, in the nude, so you can go ahead and call the police.)

It won’t be long before my son and I feel too awkward to take a bath together. I’m sure there will be times after that, such as when he’s a teenager, that we’ll find it difficult to even speak to one another.

This separation of child from parent is as tragic as it is necessary. And it’s perfectly captured, for me, by that 8-foot gap in Bourgeois’ sculpture and the falling curtains of water that will obscure father from son and vice versa.

“An artist can show things other people are terrified of expressing,” Bourgeois once said.

She’s obviously done that here already.

That alone is a principle worth defending, and reason enough the Seattle Art Museum ought to install this provocative work so we can keep talking about it.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.