Sculptures Approved for Civic Center Park

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The 10 approved sculptures and their locations within Civic Center Park. Click to enlarge. — Photo courtesy city of Newport Beach
The 10 approved sculptures and their locations within Civic Center Park. Click to enlarge.
— Photo courtesy city of Newport Beach

The civic center rabbits will soon have some company.

City Council approved 10 sculptures on Tuesday for a two-year exhibition at Civic Center Park. An additional 10 sculptures will be added in 2015, also for a two-year period. The council previously approved a budget of up to $125,000 for the first year of the project.

The approved artwork included: A trio of large steel origami bears, a doily inspired bench, a 9-foot-tall sphere built from small stainless steel rods, a larger than life man made out of recycled metal, and more.

“I’m sure there is something here that will insult someone, everyone, one piece, and I’m sure there is at least one piece here that will delight everyone,” said Mayor Rush Hill. “But I guess that’s what art is all about.”

Other council members agreed.

“I think we have a wonderful selection,” said councilwoman Nancy Gardner. “There’s something for everyone.”

She specifically liked the “whimsy” of a dog sculpture made out of blue steel pipe to be installed near the dog park. She also liked that visitors could touch and interact with the art.

Several of the council members noted that they aren’t art critics and choose to trust the experts, including Rick Stein from Arts Orange County and Rebecca Ansert from Green Public Arts Consultancy.

The chosen pieces are “outstanding works sprung from the imagination of and handcrafted by 10 seasoned or emerging artists from throughout the United States,” Stein explained. “These works range from the serious to the whimsical, from the figurative to the abstract.”

Ansert briefly described the 10 chosen sculptures: Big Wet Dog by Matt Babcock; Brandi by Curt Brill; Pretty Boy by David Buckingham; Cub Triptych by Gerardo Hacer; Odyssey by Ray Katz; Sphere 108” by Ivan McLean; Wintering by Arny Nadler; Red by Jonathan Prince; Red Gateway by Chris Rench; and Double Doily by Jennifer Cecere.

“The public will be drawn to contemplate, laugh at, sit upon, walk around and marvel at large-scale, one-of-a-kind sculptures that celebrate the human spirit,” Stein said.

The top pieces were chosen out of 260 submissions and judged by a panel of outside experts and arts commissioners, Stein said. Selections were based on artistic merit, durability, practicality and site appropriateness.

“With 260 entries, I think the city missed an opportunity to engage the public in the process of selecting the public’s artwork,” said resident Jim Mosher.

He also pointed out that the Arts Commission saw nothing more than what was presented to council Tuesday, at least during the public meetings. They didn’t see or consider the other 250 entries, he said.

“I have no idea what was rejected,” Mosher said.

All will be situated on the northern slopes of the park. The positions were established by the park’s landscape architect PWP and reviewed by city staff, Stein noted.

Some pieces will only be able to be viewed from inside the park, while others can be seen from the street.

During public comment, two civic center neighbors pointed out that they would also be able to see the art from their homes.

Surfline Way resident Jim Warren said the Arts Commission did do a lot of work on the project, but missed one important point.

“They considered how it would look from different streets,” he said, “but not at one time did they consider how it would look to the neighbors who live above the project, which is a completely different view. And it’s a view that should be considered.”

Most people won’t have to look at them everyday for two years, he commented, he and his neighbors will.

“You wouldn’t have it in your neighborhood,” Warren said. “We do. They’re there. It’s our backyard.”

Fellow neighbor Bryan Smith agreed.

“I find it difficult to imagine that any of you would want these in your back yard or your front yard,” he said. “This entire property is our backyard.”

Councilman Tony Petros said he wouldn’t mind them in his neighborhood.

“Actually, I would have them around where I live,” Petros replied.

Another resident, Barry Allen, wasn’t pleased with the artwork either.

While he liked the sphere and doily bench, he had a few choice words about the rest of the sculptures, including calling one “the gateway to hell,” referencing a sculpture called Red Gateway.

“You gotta be kidding,” is all he said about another.

He expected a variety of art pieces, he said. Some he would like, some he wouldn’t – or at least he would try to understand. But that wasn’t the case, he said.

Allen questioned why the sculptures couldn’t look true to their subject and still be artwork, like the work of Auguste Rodin or Michelangelo. A dog, horse or human should look like just that, he argued.

Hill and Henn pointed out that the rabbits look like rabbits.

“They certainly do,” Allen agreed, saying he doesn’t mind the rabbits.

Art is subjective and not every piece will please every visitor, several council members noted.

In a couple years the exhibit will rotate and different styles of art can be brought in, Curry noted.

“I’m sure it will be controversial to some,” Curry said, “but I also think it will be something that will attract people to come and get people talking about the park.”

For more information, visit newportbeachca.gov. The presentation is available for viewing HERE as an attachment on the item’s staff report from the city council May 13 agenda.

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