For Newport's park art, panel's picks echo public preferences

Choosing the alternates was more complicated than selecting the top works for the judges tasked with selecting the next round of sculptures for display in Newport Beach’s Civic Center Park.

If the sculptures ultimately favored by the selection panel come to the park just outside City Hall this fall, there’s a good chance they will be colorful, kinetic or shiny.

The panel, which chose their top nine works and three potential alternates at a forum Wednesday, consisted of City Arts Commissioners Arlene Greer, Miriam Baker and Grace Divine; plus two outside arts professionals, Irvine Fine Arts Center Director Pat Gomez and Bob Nicoll, creative director of Blizzard Entertainment, the Irvine-based video game developer known for the World of Warcraft series.

The panel’s picks will go on to the full City Arts Commission, then the City Council, for final approval.

They unanimously agreed that a towering, stained-glass matchstick (“Burnt Matchstick”), a reflective, larger-than-life shark’s dorsal fin (“No Swimming”) and a whimsical jumble of ice pops (“Popsicles”) should go on to the next round of judging. All of these works placed in the top 10 with the public in an online “people’s choice” poll, and “Burnt Matchstick” and “No Swimming” were the judges’ top two.

Baker said “No Swimming” reminds her of “Cloud Gate,” the iconic, mirrored kidney bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

“Everyone gets up close to that and takes all kinds of pictures and they interact with it,” she said. “I thought that this piece might be the same way.”

For the next six works, the panel recommended, with little disagreement, a bronze figure of a girl standing on one foot with her arms outstretched (“Life is a Balancing Act”); a ring of spinning bike wheels atop a pedestal (“Cosmic Glint”); a steel rib cage and marble spine emerging from the earth (“In Affioramento”); a kinetic sculpture that resembles a tree (“Getting Your Bearings”); a leggy stick figure of welded corten steel (“Contender II”); and a steel bird soaring through a ring mounted to a boulder (“Flight”).

Winnowing down the three backup works drew the debate.

An abstract, twisted aluminum column called “Depth of Form” got consensus as the first alternate, but three candidates tied for the next two slots: a bench made of repurposed propane tanks; a classical bronze of the sea god Neptune; and “Celilo,” a boulder suspended several feet aloft with wire attached to an inverted triangle of wooden posts.

None survived. Baker and Greer said “Celilo” looks too much like a previously displayed sculpture. Divine said the lack of equilibrium makes her uncomfortable and makes her wonder if it’s stable, which pulls her out of the moment.

“If I have to ask that question it takes away from the enjoyment,” she said. “Art should be enjoyed and inspire people instantly.”

When Rick Stein of the city’s contracted project manager Arts OC asked the panel for a “sleeper,” they batted around a kinetic sculpture of blue feathers, a scaled-down version of the “Portlandia” statue in Portland, Ore., a figure of a woman in stride, and an upright bundle of nails. They found consensus with “Cultural Pedestrians,” a quintet of 6-foot-tall posts carved in relief with faces of diverse races, and “Kinetic Beam,” a kinetic piece topped with a whirligig.

The panel judged the works on their artistic merit; durability in the coastal elements; practicality, to include safety and subject matter appropriateness for all ages; and site appropriateness. The initial submission pool consisted of 46 pieces.

The full Arts Commission will make its recommendations when it meets Sept. 14, and the City Council will approve the final selected works and alternates on Sept. 26.

Sculptures created by artists from across the nation are selected to sit in the park for two years on a rotating schedule. The program is entering its third phase.

The sculptures for the third phase will be installed in October, and the sculptures from the second phase will be removed in September.

The first two phases installed 10 works each. For this round, the 10th slot, on direction from the City Council, will be filled by the city-owned Ronald Reagan statue that is currently on display at Bonita Canyon Sports Park.

hillary.davis@latimes.com

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