Effort to restore Paul Conrad’s ‘Chain Reaction’ heads to Vidiots


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Even if you’ve only seen the late political cartoonist Paul Conrad’s ‘Chain Reaction’ in a flash while passing in your car or bicycling along Main Street in Santa Monica, the sculpture makes an impression. A knotted mass of mushroom cloud metal that stretches out of the grass at 26 feet, the grim sculpture has been a part of the city’s public art-scape since 1991.

Though after so many years it may have been easy to take for granted, a February recommendation by the Santa Monica Arts Commission to remove the 5 1/2-ton work has mobilized its fans.


a group headed by activist Jerry Rubin called Save Our Sculpture (S.O.S.) was given a six-month deadline to raise the estimated $423,000 to restore the piece, which first raised safety concerns when children were witnessed playing on it. To raise public awareness, S.O.S. has scheduled a free public screening of the hour-long PBS documentary ‘Paul Conrad: Drawing Fire’ for this Sunday at Vidiots in Santa Monica. Guest speakers and discussion are scheduled to follow the event.

Created by filmmakers Barbara Multer-Wellin and Jeffrey Abelson and narrated by Tom Brokaw, the film looks at the career of Conrad, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner who worked at the L.A. Times for 30 years, taking on a range of presidents from Harry Truman to George W. Bush. He died in 2010.

Inscribed by Conrad with the message, ‘This is a statement of peace. May it never become an epitaph,’ ‘Chain Reaction’ was a controversial piece in its day, and was approved for installation after considerable public debate.

The work was intended to be constructed in bronze, but instead was made of a mix of fiberglass, copper tubing and stainless steel that have proven less durable after years of exposure to salt and sea air. Rather than pay the cost to repair the sculpture, the city’s Arts Commission recommended that the City Council vote to remove the work at a cost estimated at $20,000.


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-- Chris Barton