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Hungarian Sculptor’s Work May Grace Irvine

Times Staff Writer

Corporate Patrons of Art Spaces Irvine--a new, nonprofit organization founded to finance the placement of works of art within the city--plans to acquire a sculpture by Marton Varo, a Hungarian artist in residence at UC Irvine, officials announced this week.

Corporate Patrons chairman Ralph A. Raya, president of RWR-Pascoe Engineering of Costa Mesa and Irvine, said last week that he hoped the piece could be placed either on the grounds of the new civic center--at Harvard Avenue and Alton Parkway--or in the park next to the center.

Raya said his attention was drawn to Varo--who is in the United States on a Fulbright grant--when he heard that the sculptor was willing to donate a sculpture to the university for $4,555, the cost of his materials.

After talking to Varo and looking at examples of his figurative work, Raya concluded that “he is a very environmental artist” because of Varo’s concern for where the Irvine piece would be sited. Raya was also pleased at Varo’s apparent commitment to “the family, children and the future,” which Raya believes to be key themes for the city of Irvine.

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Corporate Patrons does not yet have a funding base or even a roster of members (the group’s core committee consists of three principals of architecture and interior design firms and a representative of a development company). But Raya found colleagues willing to chip in the money for the piece, which was collected in time for the Thursday night meeting.

Asked why he was so anxious to acquire a sculpture by Varo before surveying other possibilities, Raya said he was charmed by the idea that “all I have to do is raise the money to purchase a piece of marble.” He also believes that the speedy acquisition of a tangible work of art would be “something to enthuse the membership. . . . We’re a grass-roots organization.”

The group will hold fund-raising events and sponsor educational activities related to public sculpture to help develop its membership. Dues range from $250 to $5,000.

Corporate Patrons is one of two groups--the other is Friends of Art Spaces Irvine, another fund-raising body--under the aegis of Art Spaces Irvine, a private nonprofit corporation formed in May, 1986, as the funding arm of the seven-member Art in Public Places advisory board. The board was appointed by the Irvine City Council in October, 1984, to develop a public art program. Members of the board include an architect and the former director of Mills House Gallery in Garden Grove, but no major art world figures.

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Two years ago, the Art in Public Places advisory board temporarily placed several sculptures in the city in a program called Arts Irvine ’87, but the city’s only permanent public installation so far is Mark Lere’s sculpture in front of the Orange County Library in Heritage Park, financed by a donation from the Koll Co.

If the Art in Public Places board approves the choice of Varo--and that is probable, according to board member and former chairman Dennis M. Hudson--a board member will work with him to locate a site for the piece. The board will then have to approve the artist’s working design, and the finished piece must pass muster before the City Council before being placed.

Of the five fledgling public art programs that Art in Public Places administers, Hudson said he could envision a Varo piece becoming part of ParkWorks (which will encompass 22 city parks), Art on the Trails (in which art will be placed on the city’s bicycle and riding trails) or Art in Unexpected Spaces. (The other two programs are the Capital Improvement Project, which is supposed to get artists and artisans involved in the design of such objects as manhole covers and drinking fountains, and a projected plan for having artists in residence.)

Other city projects involve placing of works of art at the new civic center and creating a sculpture park somewhere in Irvine. Hudson said he “would not rule out” the siting of the Varo piece at the civic center.

Told that UCI seems unlikely to acquire a piece by Varo and that the art department has no significant interest in his work--according to a university source who asked not to be named--Hudson said Art in Public Places would still consider the piece. “I feel confident we would be able to find an appropriate place for it in the city,” Hudson said.

Asked whether the board has an overall plan for the kind of sculpture it wants to see in Irvine, Hudson replied that the commitment was “to have a wide-ranging program of regional artists, as well as nationally and internationally renowned artists, and that does not mean they all may be of the highest renown in art circles.”


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