Survey Says: Colorful, Illuminated and Kinetic Sculptures

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Officials and members of the public received the first look at the third round of sculptures for the Newport Beach Civic Center Park last week.

Richard Stein, president and CEO of Arts Orange County, the organization tasked with managing the coordination of the call to artists for the phase 3 sculpture exhibition, provided a presentation of the 46 submitted sculptures and revealed the results of an online public poll during a City Arts Commission meeting Aug. 10.

The intent of the exhibition is to “activate the splendor” of the park and offer the public a new way of viewing sculpture, Stein noted in the presentation.

“There are many lofty ambitions for the exhibition, in terms in how it can animate and beautify this wonderful 14-acre park, and how it can engage the public, both local residents and visitors, to have delightful experiences in the park,” Stein said.

Up to nine artworks may be selected and prominently showcased for two years in the Civic Center Park, beginning in October. A judging panel will also choose three alternates and assign site locations for the sculptures.

From the first phase of the sculpture garden exhibition, Ray Katz’s “Odyssey” looms over the Newport Beach Civic Center.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

Based on artwork value and preliminary budget provided by artists, the selection committee will assign honorarium amounts to each artwork. Each artist was allowed to ask up to $6,000, part of which will be used for the actual work involved in placing the sculpture in the park and part as the honorarium payment to the artist.  

A total budget of $45,000 has been allotted for the project.

“That is intended to cover not only the honorarium for their own work, but also the expenses that they will bear, in terms of transporting the art to Newport Beach,” installation and de-installation, and transporting it back, Stein explained.

A few of the top interesting choices include giant frozen treats reminiscent of roadside American icons, a stained glass matchstick, and a kinetic wind powered kaleidoscope tree.

Other entries include an oversized set of ribs, a giant shiny shark fin, an interactive 19th century rotating onyx on a Kansas limestone fencepost, a large bronze Neptune, maquette of the Portlandia statue, and a bench made from repurposed steel propane tanks.

Submissions came from local artists as well as across the country, and even from Europe. The sculptors are also movie prop designers, a former professional skateboarder, an industrial designer for an aircraft company, and more.

Big and small, the sculptures are made of stucco, steel, stained glass, and other materials.

Some represent classic Americana, life and death, an active and energetic lifestyle, satellites and human dependence on technology, or that life isn’t always easy. Several are interactive or encourage viewers to touch the sculpture.

“The objective is to have a diversity of style and scale, and types of sculptures and artists on display,” Stein said.

A public forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. Aug. 23 in council chambers. The Arts Commission will review the committee’s suggestions at the Sept.14 regular meeting. Commissioners will then submit their recommendations to the City Council for consideration and final approval at the Sept. 26 meeting.

“There will be many opinions expressed, not only by the public, but by the panel, the commissioners, and the council, through the rest of the process,” Stein said.

The artist selection panel includes three arts commissioners, as well as Director at Irvine Fine Arts Center Pat Gomez and  Creative Director at Blizzard Entertainment Bob Nicoll.

Judges will consider a number of factors when reviewing the artwork: Artistic merit (demonstrative of originality and artistic excellence and strong professional qualifications); durability (high quality materials that can withstand the outdoor coastal elements and requires minimal to no maintenance); practicality (appropriate subject matter for audiences of all ages and is safe); and site appropriateness (suitable in scale to be seen in environment and for viewing from all angles).

Popsicles by Craig Gray was voted the number one “people’s choice” for the third phase of the sculpture exhibition at the Newport Beach Civic Center Park.
— Courtesy city of Newport Beach ©

There was a “tremendous” response of 375 votes through the online survey, Stein said, which he called the “people’s choice” ranking. All top-scoring artworks in the online public survey will be considered and discussed in depth.

Earning the “people’s choice” number one spot is a steel, wood and stucco sculpture of a stack of three colorful popsicles that stand 9 feet tall. The popular pick titled simply Popsicles was made in 2016 by Florida-based artist, Craig Gray, and received 51 votes.

It’s “colorful and fun,” Stein described.

Gray said in a phone interview this week that he is “very quickly closing in on 50 years old” and was inspired by all the quirky roadside Americana icons he saw as a kid.

“I’m kind of a big fan of them (that style) because I grew up in that era,” he said.

Growing up in New England, he traveled along some of the classic American roads, like Route 66.

On the road nowadays, American landscape is dominated by fast food, chain restaurants and box stores, he commented. People have to search for the fun, eccentric attractions that were so popular and visible a few decades ago.

It’s fun, and maybe a bit kitschy, but he hopes it people enjoy it. His sculptures encourage people to stop for a moment, smile, and take and share photos.

Several of Gray’s other recent pieces, like a giant dog bone and an oversized stack or orange slices, are inspired by the same style.

Gray was very excited to hear that people voted for his Popsicles sculpture in the online survey. If ultimately chosen, he is looking forward to taking another classic road trip out west to California to deliver his quirky sculpture to Newport Beach.

The tall, illuminated stained glass piece, Burnt Matchstick by Karl Unnasch, was the “people’s choice” runner up for the upcoming round in the sculpture garden.
— Courtesy city of Newport Beach ©

The total budget requested for Popsicles  is $5,500, which includes $2,000 of that as the honorarium for the artist (the remaining funds are for transportation and installation).

The runner up for “people’s choice” from the poll is Karl Unnasch’s Burnt Matchstick, a 40-foot tall steel, stained glass and clear acrylic sculpture with interior LED lights. It received 40 votes in the online poll.

The lights in the head of the sculpture slowly flicker to mimic a match being blown out, Stein explained.

In his statement, Unnasch explains that it represents “catching a fleeting moment in time, the split second after which a burning wooden matchstick has been extinguished.”

After informing Unnasch that there is no electrical connection available, he offered to adapt it with solar panels, if chosen and the city wishes to have it illuminated at night,  Arts OC Program Assistant Nicholas Thurkettle explained.

Location would be key with this piece, Stein noted. Because of the light, placement in the middle of the park might make it more of an “attractive nuisance,” he said. Closer to the buildings might be more appropriate, he added.

It was built to withstand the elements and has been installed in an outdoor location for the past two years, Stein pointed out.

Total budget for the sculpture is $6,000 and nearly all of it would go toward transportation and installation, with just $600 as the honorarium.

Coming in with the third most votes from the online survey is a kinetic wind sculpture by David Boyer called Getting Your Bearings. Atop the 12.5-foot tall rusted steel tree-like base are three wind-driven steel and stainless steel paddle wheels.

It was originally built for the 2014 Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert.

The piece is “monumental in size, whimsical in style, and antique in appearance,” Boyer explains on his website. The steel wheels perched on top and spinning in the breeze create “an overhead kaleidoscope of light and shadow,” he adds.

Getting Your Bearings by David Boyer, the third most popular choice in the poll, is a kinetic wind sculpture.
— Courtesy city of Newport Beach ©

Boyer was inspired by “found antique industrial artifacts that dot the deserts and mountains of the Western United States.”

The total budget requested for Getting Your Bearings is $3,350, the majority of it going toward the $3,000 honorarium.

Other interesting submissions include one from Brunivo Buttarelli, who lives and works in Europe. His steel and marble piece titled In Affioramento received 14 votes and placed ninth on the list.

The 2011 piece is an arrangement of seven sculptures that form an oversized set of ribs and represent “birth, life, death and re-birth.”

The grouping symbolize a previous life that “washes up on the shores of the world or emerges from the land in the past,” Stein read from Buttarelli’s artist statement.

The total budget for In Affioramento is listed at $6,000, with most for transportation and installation and $2,500 as the honorarium.

Another interesting piece takes inspiration from ocean life, Oleg Lobykin’s No Swimming sculpture landed in sixth place with 16 votes. The shark fin shaped piece is glass fiber reinforced concrete over foam with aluminum leaf.

It debuted at the 2008 Burning Man festival and was previously installed at the Google headquarters in Mountain View.

Lobykin notes in his artist statement that it‘s about “danger, fear and the hope for tomorrow.”

The shiny surface invites viewers to “reflect on our perception of our place in nature,” Stein read from the statement.

The requested total budget of $6,000, includes $1,000 as the honorarium.


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(left to right) Oleg Lobykin’s No Swimming sculpture landed in sixth place. The shark fin shaped piece is glass fiber reinforced concrete over foam with aluminum leaf.
Brunivo Buttarelli’s In Affioramento placed ninth and is an arrangement of seven sculptures that form an oversized set of ribs that represent “birth, life, death and re-birth.”
— Courtesy city of Newport Beach ©
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