Sculptures That ‘Sing’ : With These Chairs, Beachgoers Can Forget Radios

Times Staff Writer

Two 18-foot-high beach chairs will make their singing debut Saturday in Santa Monica.

The “Singing Beach Chairs"--oversized chairs designed to produce musical tones when struck by the wind--are the first of 10 artworks planned for Santa Monica’s beaches by the city and the Santa Monica Arts Foundation.

The chairs, made of steel and aluminum tubes, have notches cut into them that will produce “oboe-like tones” as the wind blows through them, according to their creator, Douglas Hollis.


All artworks planned for the beach area must interact with natural phenomena, said Henry Korn, director of both the city’s Arts Commission and the private Santa Monica Arts Foundation. Eventually, the artworks will form a sculpture park of natural elements which will run the length of Santa Monica’s beaches, Korn said.

The chairs, located between Pico Boulevard and the Santa Monica Pier with a small stand of palms behind them, will face the ocean. Each chair will be large enough to seat two people.

The 7-foot-high seats will have backs formed by five aluminum tubes that will use the prevailing winds off the ocean to “sing,” said Hollis, 39, a San Francisco-based artist who specializes in artworks that interact with nature.

“I like the idea that they’ll look like East Coast lifeguard chairs,” Hollis said. “They’ll have a generic beach quality to them.”

The sound volume of the chairs will depend on the velocity of the wind, Hollis said. “In a high wind you will hear them from about 500 feet off. On an average day the sound will carry about 100 feet,” he said.

An installation ceremony for “Singing Beach Chairs will be held Saturday at 5 p.m..

Funding for the $17,000 pair of chairs was approved by the City Council last year, Korn said. The council also approved partial funding for the next artwork scheduled for the beach, entitled “Art Tool,” by Carl Cheng.

“Art Tool,” which will be completed by December, is an 8-foot-wide metal drum covered with indented patterns, Korn said.

The drum will be pulled by tractor across the beach from Pacific Palisades to the Santa Monica-Venice border, Korn said, leaving in the sand indentations in the pattern of a cityscape, including buildings and streets.

“A miniature cityscape will be rolled out the entire length of the beach,” Korn said. The depiction will last until it is washed away by the tide.

“Cheng has figured out how to make the whole beach into an artwork,” Korn said. “It will be like the world’s greatest sand castle.”

The City Council contributed $24,000 towards Cheng’s $60,000 drum. The National Foundation for the Arts and the Santa Monica Arts Foundation supplied the balance of funding for the project.

Korn said the city plans to have an artwork every 500 yards along the beach by 1997. When completed, Santa Monica “will have the only beachfront art park in the world,” he said.