New landscaping and the possible removal of a small section of fence at Carlsbad's controversial "Split Pavilion" sculpture were recommended Thursday by the city Arts Commission.
But at a meeting punctuated by angry debate, shouts and slamming doors, the commission refused to seek the removal of the most disputed part of the $338,000 sculpture--the 8-foot-high galvanized steel fence that runs along Carlsbad Boulevard.
"This doesn't have any obscene body parts hanging out of it. I personally have trouble seeing what the furor is about," Commissioner Gary Wrench said.
The recommendations to the City Council, approved by a 6-1 vote, included concessions already agreed to by Andrea Blum, the New York artist the city hired to design the sculpture.
The vote angered most of the 60 people in the audience, some of whom stormed out and slammed doors when the commission's decision became apparent.
"This artwork will never grow on me," snapped resident Jerri Walder.
Perhaps the most heated exchange came when Commissioner Patra Straub took aim at opponents of the artwork--7,000 people have signed petitions demanding the bars be removed--by quoting author Elie Wiesel about how "the fanatic hides from true debate."
Audience members hooted and shouted, "Don't talk down to us."
Newly appointed Commissioner Arthur Wood, attending his first meeting, chimed in with the crowd, telling Straub, "I don't appreciate you lecturing the people who came here."
Wood was the lone dissenter in the commission's vote. He wanted the arts panel to again ask Blum to consider removing all the fencing, a request that Blum rejected in April when she met earlier with a special Arts Commission subcommittee.
Wood said Blum's refusal to make more changes jeopardizes public funding for other artists. He said the panel should tell her, "You're not just hurting a few people in Carlsbad. You're hurting all artists everywhere when you take an attitude that the artist is always right and you peasants are all wrong."
Under the recommendations made Thursday, the city would change the landscaping around the sculpture--in consultation with the artist--from ice plant to grasses and succulents, no more than 2 feet high.
After that, the city would ask Blum to remove the short section of fence along the north end of the artwork.
Thursday's meeting was the latest skirmish over the seaside sculpture that was built after the city searched nationwide for an artist. After Blum was chosen, drawings of her proposed sculpture were shown around the community, but, even so, a furor erupted after it was actually built.
Many speakers, including opponents, took pains to denounce what they called the disrespectful treatment of Blum during her visit to the city.
"I am ashamed to say I live here because of the way a group of people in Carlsbad treated another human being," said Pamela Wischkaemper, referring to the catcalls Blum endured and the vandalism done to her artwork.
Others agreed, but still thought the fence should be taken down or moved to another location.
Debra Blair invited members of the arts panel and City Council to "sit with us in the park and just listen to what people say (about the sculpture). You'd be amazed, and you'd get that thing out of there."
But several other speakers said they liked "Split Pavilion."
"There's just something about it that just speaks to me. . . . It's very peaceful," said Rick Rorapaugh, who likened the work to seaside temples built by the ancient Greeks.
Angelo Carli said other great works of art were similarly criticized at first. The Eiffel Tower, he said, "threw Paris into a frenzy."
But Walder said art isn't the real issue. The real issue, she said, is whether city officials will listen to the public, which doesn't like the work.
"When Andrea Blum titled her work "Split Pavilion," she certainly titled it correctly," Walder said.