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No 'oohs' over this art, just 'ughs'

Looking at a picture of a sculpture intended for an upcoming city installation, Newport Beach resident Barry Allen had a singular remark: "You've got to be kidding."

The bronze artwork, titled "Brandi," was made by a New York artist and features the form of a woman seated on a low slab of granite. Her knees lean together, her arms drape over them, and both her hands and feet seemingly melt away.

To Allen, who would have preferred a sculpture by Michelangelo or Rodin, the abstract body looks ridiculous. But "Brandi" is one of 10 sculptures approved by the City Council on Tuesday for a two-year display in the park near the Civic Center.

The collection, which council members heralded as a necessary step toward increasing the city's arts offerings, runs the gamut from steel origami bears to an aluminum doily bench.

"Tonight we will present to you outstanding works sprung from the imagination of and handcrafted by 10 seasoned or emerging artists from throughout the United States," Rick Stein, executive director of the nonprofit, countywide arts council Arts Orange County, said before the selections were presented.

A committee made up of local art experts and members of the city's arts commission chose the finalists from 260 submitted entries.

Allen expects that most will be met with offense by conservative Orange County residents. Though he had anticipated that he would like at least some of the chosen pieces, he instead expressed disappointment after disappointment to council members.

"The red gate," Allen said, referring to a similarly titled 20-foot long sculpture, "is a gateway to hell. That's what it really looks like, and that's the way the people are going to describe it."

"Big Wet Dog," he continued later, referring to the form of a dog more than 7 feet long, "I don't think it looks much like a dog."

He said he did not find the various sculptures complex, inspiring or expertly made, as they were described.

Two of Allen's neighbors, who live near City Hall and likened the Civic Center Park to their own backyard, expressed similar horror.

"Most of the people in this room don't have to look at these 24 hours a day for two years," Jim Warren said.

Still, council members explained that they did not intend to be art critics. Rather, they saw their duty as defining whether the process was fair.

Plus, as Mayor Rush Hill pointed out, some sculptures currently in the park proved true to form.

"We do have rabbits," he said, referring to the dozen-plus controversial concrete bunnies installed for children to play on in the park.

Allen said he had nothing against those.

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