The future of public art in the City of San Diego was expanded Tuesday as six local artists were honored by Mayor Roger Hedgecock as the first to have their works exhibited on the Charles C. Dail Community Concourse.
The temporary exhibit of sculpture is the latest twist in the sensitive arena of public art. The Community Concourse show is a new program sponsored by the Public Arts Advisory Board of the City of San Diego. The artworks, which will be replaced quarterly, have been up for a month and will remain in place through January.
They include Art Cole's "Wave on a Half Shell," a small, squat undulating sculpture of steel, metal mesh and stucco, painted green to match the aging bronze of Malcolm Leland's "Bow Wave" fountain opposite it.
Two mobiles by John Edwards perch on or hang from the terrace level: "Sunset," a red, yellow and blue circular piece, seen earlier this year at the San Diego Museum of Art's Artists Guild exhibit, and a mobile fabricated from stainless steel and aluminum and painted a brilliant red, which conjures up San Diego's tie to the aviation industry. In all, seven pieces have been placed about the plaza and terrace levels of the concourse.
"We're not trying to do anything other than improve San Diego," said George Driver, an advisory board member and chairman of the artist selection committee. A key to the selection process, he said, was to avoid those works that might be considered controversial. "One of the complaints about the (proposed) Ellsworth Kelly sculpture was that there was no public input," Driver said. "We wanted to get a feel for what is acceptable and not acceptable."
Driver referred to the roiling controversy that surrounded the San Diego Unified Port District's selection of New Yorker Ellsworth Kelly to create for San Diego what would have been his largest sculpture. Kelly, a leading proponent of Minimalist art, eventually gave up the $450,000 commission to place a slender spire on a park near the bay. In view of that and other national controversies that surround public art, the city advisory board's new program is part of a plan to educate the public about art.
The city may purchase several of the artworks in the exhibit once a suitable location can be found for them, a city staffer said. Cost to the city for the show is primarily the transportation of the works to and from the artists' studios; the funds will come from the Public Arts Advisory Board's budget.
Hedgecock, who presented the artists with proclamations, called the arts a "measure of our humanness." San Diegans, he said, are "demanding more and better art as part of the increased tempo of our city. No matter how sophisticated a lot of other things become--our technology and so forth--the arts seem to give us a way to express what we're really about."
Each of the artists expressed thanks for being included in the exhibit. "It's a good beginning," Edwards said. "I think as the program grows it should widen the scope and attract a wider field of artists. I don't think geographical boundaries should be associated with art."
Cole, who with the others planned to celebrate their selection, spoke of the importance of jobs for artists: "Every sculptor, painter, musician and poet in San Diego is struggling for work. Many are forced out and seek paying art work in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. We need caring patrons--corporate, private and institutional--to provide shop time and money to build and paint and plan a cultural renaissance here in San Diego."
Other artists included in the exhibition are Michael O'Brien, an art student at San Diego State University; Michael Conlen, a graduate art student, and Peter Mitten, a part-time teacher. Mitten's four-part vertical bronze sculpture, which mediates between pedestrians and the surrounding skyscrapers, had already been commissioned when he was selected for the exhibit.
Artist Michael Soriano was the only artist selected whose work was not exhibited. The piece he created for the concourse was determined to be too large. However, a new location for it is being sought by the selection committee.