Mailbag: The Invisible (Civic) Center — Classic Destination or Roadside Curiosity?

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It may yet come to pass: despite the progressive, and possibly enlightened interests of a minority, the exciting Newport Beach Civic Center (our new Forum Romanum) may be adorned not with laurel leaves but with the decorative curlicues desired by a majority of second class conservative minds: bad art.

Although the elegant architectural statement is capped by a white undulating roofline which gracefully beckons to and echoes its nearby sister, the wave-capped sea, and its acres of green tempered glass provide our civic leaders with the illumination and transparency we understand to be a proper metaphor of good municipal government, an insult has been lodged amid the gardens of this noble edifice that not even the felicitous bridge to the library and its studied contents can withstand: terrible art.

Ask yourselves, dear and fellow citizens, what do we deserve for our taxation and vexation, for our planning, building and outfitting of this wonderful new municipal heartbeat? Do we dare crown ourselves with the applause of serious sculpture, or do we inveigle ourselves with the impotent and ridiculous gestures of white Disney-esque rabbits? (Please, cordon them off for the kiddies).

This bourgeois insistence on a fantasy finish to our lives is a local phenomenon that is so amorphous and ubiquitous that it envelopes Orange County in a cloud that spreads out and numbs the senses to the beauty of radical, i.e., genuine, ideas.

Let us examine the hole in the doughnut.

On a structural level, this apparent vacancy operates in a manner not dissimilar to the Roman arch, where the span bears the weight of the built design, some of which, be they aqueducts or basilicas, remain standing after many centuries. So the hole allows the lowly donut to take its characteristic pleasing and tasty shape. The hand-made artisanal, I daresay classic quality we find so satisfying, is provided by this invisible nexus.

I would argue that, unlike Gertrude Stein’s infamous comment regarding Oakland, “There’s no there, there,” the City of Newport Beach can have its donut and eat it too, if it will but strive to clear its head and appreciate the invisible center of its accomplishment: the sculpture which will be installed in its public gardens.

Think for a moment of the Medicis of Florence. Lorenzo, the most noted of that powerful clan, had an appetite for two things: self-aggrandizement, and the finest art. Now collectively our pride is unmatched (not a real compliment), and we are much wealthier that even Il Magnifico. Why then do we not desire to express ourselves in a manner befitting our rank as a privileged city? Are we retaining the finest artists and beseeching them to create memorable work?

No. We are instead parsing out this pre-eminent canvas – a spectacular civic project – to a warren of unknown and lesser talents, asking them to submit their works for approval. We should be commissioning works – a few, not a gaggle – from artists of proven ability and merit. We should be inviting those considered few to visit our fair city so that they can smell the sea first-hand and train their eyes on the charms of the great site. Let them unite their vision with our dream. Let them feel the pride we have in our comely project.

How can this be done from a distance, with ready-made objects from far-distant studios? I don’t believe it can. You need to hold your love – and your sculpture – by the hand before you slip the ring on her finger.

A ring. A donut. A garden. Our story is a classic quest. But we must write in the hero and heroine and not leave it to happenstance that it will all come out right in the end. Someone must form a proper standing committee and proceed to give some shape to this artistic adventure. And be prepared to smite the mocking Philistines along the way, or we will be crowned not with laurel but with laughingstock.

Fred Page, Director

Grace Lane Gallery/Page Art Inc.

Corona Del Mar

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