Residents, city officials, and art experts got the first look at all the possibilities for the next round of sculptures in the Civic Center Park over the weekend.
The City Arts Commission held a special study session Saturday to review submissions for phase IV of the sculpture exhibition.
It’s a “museum without walls,” Commission Chair Arlene Greer noted, adding that they had many strong choices this year.
Greer emphasized that this was a preliminary review and they are still collecting input from the public. She encouraged residents to attend the next Arts Commission meeting, Thursday at 5 p.m. in Council chambers at city hall, or call or email their opinions to commissioners or city staff.
Greer also urged locals (and interested visitors) to participate in the online poll. The survey allows people to choose their top three favorite sculptures. Survey closes March 20. Vote in the online poll here: sparkoc.com/nb_sculpture_poll
Also weighing in on Saturday was a curatorial panel of experts Dave Barton, an art critic for OC Weekly, and Jeffrey Frisch, the Arts Program Coordinator for the John Wayne Airport Arts Program.
They provided feedback to Richard Stein of Arts Orange County and Professor Joe Lewis of University of California Irvine, who presented each work of art.
After the meeting, the discussion moved outdoors as commissioners, panelists, and members of the public toured the park. A number of locations were discussed as possibilities for certain pieces.
The panel will recommend 10 sculptures and three alternates to the Arts Commission. Commissioners are scheduled to consider the suggestions at their March 21 meeting and make a final recommendation to City Council. The item will likely be on the March 26 Council agenda.
The rotating exhibition, first authorized by Council in 2013, swaps out a set of 10 sculptures every two years. Council voted 7-0 on Jan. 8 to approve the latest phase of the project.
The total expense for the exhibition is about $135,000 per phase, and includes artists’ honoraria, installation, de-installation, and project management.
On Saturday, there was general consensus on 13 submissions. The top picks included: Large abstract pieces (including a set of blue “Fallen Sky” pieces with apparent footholds to encourage climbing); both big and small representational sculptures (including a tiny toddler in swim trunks and goggles, a large mule deer, and a life-sized figure of the biblical seductress, “Delilah”); and a few kinetic artworks (including a nonrepresentational surfer with moveable “arms” leaning forward off a curved board called “Chairman of the Board”).
The surfer-inspired “Chairman of the Board” might be a nice piece for the park since Newport is a coastal city, Greer pointed out.
Commissioners and panelists also pointed out the artist’s play on words in naming the piece. It’s very clever, Barton said.
During public comment, resident Bobbie Blinder said she also liked the surfer sculpture.
“It’s such an original concept on a subject that is usually so ordinary,” Blinder commented.
Commissioners and panel experts were, by far, most intrigued by “Revised Maps of the Present” by artist Timothy Smith of Dana Point.
The piece is comprised of an oil and acrylic painting on wood and latex sculptures, and features speakers and LED lights. With 20-foot walls painted to appear 3-D, “Revised Maps” is a multi-dimensional, interactive installation that depicts a train going through an urban landscape.
Viewers can “step into” the painting by walking through three rooms to enter the train car and sit down next to the artificial passengers. The layered piece uses warped angles and “hidden spatial dimensions,” according to the artist.
Several commissioners and experts raised concerns about how it would be installed and if it were appropriate for outdoor display, noting that the first rain might ruin it.
“It is so intriguing to me, and the potential to interact with it, I’m very taken by it,” Greer said. “But it has to be doable.”
Arts OC is reaching out to the artist to confirm how it would work, Stein confirmed. They submitted “a lot of questions” to the artist, he said.
It’s very different from anything they’ve ever received, Greer noted. She’s very excited about it’s potential, she added.
“It’s perfect for (our concept of) a museum without walls,” Greer commented.
Commissioners thought it would appeal to a wide variety of people and likely bring new visitors in to the sculpture garden. Several agreed that it was unique and interesting.
“It’s a grand opportunity to push the concept of a sculpture garden,” Frisch opined.
A few of the submissions may look familiar to residents, as some of the artists who have been featured in previous phases have proposed other work this time around.
David Buckingham, the Los Angeles artist who created the colorful, found scrap steel, 11-foot tall “Pretty Boy” sculpture installed during the first phase, has submitted the much smaller, but very similar looking, “Spy Boy” this year. Also made out of colorful found scrap steel, “Spy Boy” stands at 6-feet tall and doesn’t have the horns his big brother displayed on the top of his head.
“It’s ‘Pretty Boy’s’ spawn,” Stein joked.
Both Commissioners and experts liked “Spy Boy” as a possible contender for this phase.
Another submitted sculpture may appear familiar is from Florida artist, Craig Gray.
His sculpture, “Popsicles,” a set of colorful, giant frozen treats stacked on top of each other, is currently installed in the park. “Popsicles” received the most votes in last year’s poll.
For this phase of the exhibition, Gray submitted “Slices of Heaven,” a steel and stucco set of four oversized orange slices stacked at angles on top of each other. The gigantic citrus slices are a fun way to pay homage to Orange County, some pointed out.
“Slices of Heaven” was also well-liked by Commissioners and panel experts on Saturday.
“It’s nice and bright, you can’t miss it,” said Commissioner Marie Little.
Children will interact with it and it will likely be popular among the public, several commissioners agreed.
The tall, slender rust-colored, welded corten (or weathered steel) sculpture, “Contender,” is from the same artist as “Be Still and Know” in phase III. Kansas-based John Merigian’s “Contender” was a favorite option among Commissioners, panelists and residents on Saturday.
Blinder said she loved the mid-stride movement of the piece.
Although some Commissioners worried that many of the submissions would be too familiar, and, on top of that, there wasn’t a wide enough selection to choose from in order to ensure a diverse exhibition.
“There’s a lot of sameness happening here, and that’s a concern,” noted Commissioner Barbara Glabman.
Commissioners and panelists didn’t hold back their aversion to certain pieces either, Commissioner Baker commenting a few times that a sculpture wasn’t worthy of the city’s sculpture exhibition. Others said certain pieces were don’t inspire or move them in any way.
Ultimately, several commissioners noted that they had a good selection and had more than a dozen strong contenders.
Other sculptures submitted include a yellow abstract lower torso geometric figure, a textured brass vacuum, a set of four polished stainless steel figures, a reflective “START” sign, and more.
A mixture of mediums, artistic styles, subjects, and sizes are included in the submissions. The experts noted that they should try to select a diverse group when making their recommendation.
While a large piece is eye-catching, sometimes the “discovery of a little treasure around the corner” can be wonderful, Blinder commented.
For more information, visit newportbeachca.gov/trending/cultural-arts/sculpture-exhibition.