The Newport Beach City Council knew what was coming when resident Barry Allen stepped to the microphone Tuesday night to offer his take on the next round of sculptures at Civic Center Park.
"Buckle your seat belts," Mayor Kevin Muldoon quipped. A few chuckles rippled in the audience.
Returning this year to appraise the next phase of "so-called art," he said sculptures should look like Auguste Rodin's realistic figures — "The Thinker," "The Burghers of Calais" — and not like the work of "a bunch of people who are welders or steelworkers."
He wasn't entirely negative. He liked a representational bronze called "Life is a Balancing Act," which depicts a young girl in a leotard balancing on a rock with her arms outstretched and eyes closed. He admired the details of the faces and hands in "Cultural Pedestrians," a quintet of 6-foot-tall posts carved in relief with faces of diverse races. And, overall, he liked "Flight," a steel bird soaring through a porthole mounted to a boulder, though he worried that its sharp beak was planned for placement too close to a footpath.
But he said "Burnt Matchstick," a gold- and blue-toned 40-foot tower glowing with LED lights behind the stained-glass and acrylic panels of its body and gnarled tip, was tall and "ugly." "Getting Your Bearings," a kinetic wind sculpture resembling a tree, looked like a heap of "junk," he opined. And he didn't "get" "Be Still and Know," a leggy stick figure of welded corten steel.
As for "Popsicles," the colorful steel, wood and stucco jumble of ice pops that was popular in a people's choice poll and maintained support from the city Arts Commission, Allen had faint praise.
"If you like that, that's OK. It's good art for Newport Beach," he said. Then he added: "I got no complaints about it, but it's not art. It's just three Popsicle sticks."
More snickers followed.
So did a unanimous council vote to accept nine sculptures, most of them reflecting choices the Arts Commission made this month. ("Sorry, Barry," Muldoon said.)
One of the commission's choices, "In Affioramento" — which depicted a steel ribcage and marble spine emerging from the earth — dropped out because the cost to ship the roughly 9-by-8-by-33-foot sculpture from northern Italy to Newport Beach was prohibitive.
"Cultural Pedestrians," an alternate, will take its place.
Sculptures created by artists from across the nation are typically selected 10 at a time to sit in Civic Center Park for two years on a rotating schedule. Funding comes from the Visit Newport Beach Arts Contributions budget.
The exhibit is entering its third phase. A reception for the upcoming phase is scheduled for Oct. 28.
For this round, the 10th slot, on previous direction from the City Council, is filled permanently by the city-owned Ronald Reagan statue formerly on display at Bonita Canyon Sports Park.
Moving the Reagan statue meant the city could draw only nine new sculptures this year to keep within budget. But because the Reagan figure is permanent, there will be no future expense for removing it.
The Reagan statue now waves at passersby a few yards from the park's warren of giant concrete bunnies.
Councilman Brad Avery said art should always inspire a reaction.
"By Barry Allen's commentary and reaction tonight, I think we're off to a great start for this new session in the garden," Avery said.
Resident George Schroeder suggested a drive to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles for those whose tastes lean toward Rodin.
"They have fabulous art there," Schroeder said. "I would recommend my friend Barry go once a year, and I'm sure he'll see all kinds of fabulous art that he agrees with."
Arts Commissioner Arlene Greer said the chosen works will appeal to a diverse audience.
"In essence, the city Civic Center sculpture garden has become a museum without walls," she said.
These sculptures will be installed in Civic Center Park in October:
- “Popsicles” by Craig Gray
- “Burnt Matchstick” by Karl Unnasch
- “No Swimming” by Oleg Lobykin
- “Life is a Balancing Act” by Cindy Debold
- “Cosmic Glints” by Patricia Vader
- “Getting Your Bearings” by David Boyer
- “Be Still and Know” by John Merigian
- “Flight” by Steven Rieman
- “Cultural Pedestrians” by Sue Quinlan