Public art is often the butt of jokes and viewed with contempt, along with performance art and washed up aging rockers on the county fair circuit. Whatever your feelings are about the role of government in the arts, many people support public art in theory, and its civic impact is meager compared to contracts for garbage disposal, cable television, and towing. Public art controversies are noteworthy in that one sees people get twisted knickers over something being ugly or, to put it politely, "compositionally unresolved." (Personally, we wonder if Baby Suri isn¹t compositionally unresolved.)
In Oakland, a small public art controversy has been brewing over a large bronze sculpture artist Mario Chiodo wants to gift to the City. The sculpture in question, entitled, , lost the competition for a public artwork at where the freeway fell down in the 89 Earthquake Mandela Gateway. Undeterred, Chiodo solicited funds and support from Mayor Jerry Brown, real estate developers, large corporations, and the Chamber of Commerce to realize the fabrication costs. He hooked up with Forest City Partners, the real estate developers of Oakland¹s Uptown Project, which is receiving a significant amount of City funding to build some affordable housing amongst its luxury apartments. The Uptown Project, due to open space requirements, will also include a public park.
And what would adorn this park, but Mario Chiodo's sculpture! However, as the park was to be gifted to the City in a few years, the sculpture had to be approved by the City's Gifts Panel. The Gifts Panel said thanks, but no thanks. (.pdf) We wish we had a Gifts Panel that could turn down undesirable presents before they cluttered our apartment! It then went before the Public Art Advisory Committee which got its fellow volunteer bureaucrats on the Gifts Panel¹s back, and agreed with their no vote. They also decided to hold further discussions with the artist, so the deal is not totally dead. And indeed, Mario Chiodo has signed on to be represented by Oakland gallerist, Esteban Sabar, newly appointed to the Cultural Affairs Commission, of which the Public Art Advisory Committee is a subcommittee.
Perhaps the City of Oakland should follow our humble example, and graciously accept the gifted sculpture, then relegate it to the equivalent of Mom and Dad's vast exurban garage: Regift the Champions to Livermore!
Former Chairperson of the Oakland Cultural Affairs Commission, Suki O'Kane provides more details and a thoughtful analysis here.
SFist Sarah L, contributing.Remember Them: Champions for Humanity