The residents of Carlsbad who have spoken out against Andrea Blum's new work of public art there have a point: The tall, galvanized steel poles that border much of "Split Pavilion" do look like the constricting bars of a prison cell.
But the project's dissenters are also missing something: Beyond those bars stands a structure of classical grace that frames the ocean view beyond with elegance and dignity.
"Split Pavilion" has a split personality, but then again, so do the Carlsbad residents whose apathy toward the project during its five-year gestation has suddenly given way to antagonism.
The Carlsbad Arts Office commissioned Blum, a New York-based artist, to create a work for the triangular, 7,500-square-foot site on Carlsbad Boulevard and Ocean Street in 1987. Blum presented her plans at public meetings, mailers with a rendering of the project were sent to every Carlsbad residence and the artist's design was taken to several community boards for comment. The response "was all good," arts office manager Connie Beardsley told The Times last July, when construction had just begun. "People were more concerned with the elimination of parking places than with the work itself."
But, since "Split Pavilion" was completed in February at a cost of about $350,000, tempers have flared, voices have been raised and petitions signed in protest against the work. When Blum stated last summer that "the work deals with the psychology and the sociology of the space, which ultimately is the politics of the space," she may not have realized just how political that space could become.
"Split Pavilion" is, in fact, remarkably true to the artist's intentions. Blum said last July that most of her projects address the notion of accessibility to a space, but in planning the Carlsbad work, "I started thinking about the reverse of that--placement and displacement, or inaccessibility."
The 8-foot-high fence that lines two sides of "Split Pavilion," denies access to the site and the ocean view in an aggressive, but wholly symbolic manner, for one can still look through the bars to the view beyond. The fence is a sculptural slap that caters to the architecture of the privatized lots surrounding the site--including a characterless motel and an oversized resort complex--rather than to the open, expansive coastline.
But "Split Pavilion" is not exclusionary. It is, rather, (to use the vocabulary of post-modernism) about exclusion.
Once the work is entered, which is easily done from its entire western side or from a path on the Carlsbad Boulevard side, one encounters a harmonious, even reverential space. Square concrete pillars frame an open structure vaguely reminiscent of an ancient Greek temple, especially in its dramatic, elevated siting overlooking Carlsbad State Beach. Steel poles and occasional solid panels form a trellis-like roof over the structure and its low, concrete benches.
A narrow channel of water flows through the center of the pavilion and into a large square pool just beyond it. Fluid and active, the water beautifully interrupts the static, orderly geometry of the surrounding structure. It brings sensuality to an environment built primarily of anonymous, industrial materials, just as the ocean itself relaxes the hard lines of the adjacent city.
Moving through "Split Pavilion" from the busy street to the ocean bluff, one experiences a shift in sensations, from urban captivity to organic release. Although the galvanized steel and concrete feel constricting along the perimeter of the site, at its center they transcend their commercial, industrial origins to define a spiritual space perfectly attuned to meditation and solitude.
The visual tension spawned by these shifts is exactly what energizes Blum's work, but it is also what has challenged so many members of the Carlsbad community. The work's wide sidewalk with low concrete benches and its large planted areas of bland, responsible ice plant have been easier to swallow.
In response to the controversy stirred up by Blum's work, the Carlsbad Arts Commission generously hosted several community forums to allow residents to vent their views. Further, the commission has recommended the formation of a committee to meet with the artist to "re-examine" the work. The Carlsbad City Council is expected to vote on the recommendation later this month.
What else should be done?
Nothing but wait until the initial shock of Blum's work wears off and its subtleties sink in. Carlsbad came by "Split Pavilion" honestly, through a fair and intelligent process allowing plenty of public information and participation, and city residents should respect that process. Although no work of public art need be absolute, changes should be made only at the discretion of the artist. Protecting Blum's rights and her work should be a matter of principle, not of popularity.