Man's Art vs. Nature's : Decision Near on What Will--or Won't--Beautify the Beach


A longstanding feud over public art on Santa Monica's beaches is expected to be resolved Thursday by the California Coastal Commission.

Santa Monica Arts Commissioner Bruria Finkel said she will argue in favor of placing artwork on beaches, while Louise Gabriel, president of the historical society, will ask the panel to prohibit it.

Some pieces, such as "Singing Beach Chairs," are already in place.

Both Finkel and Gabriel have lengthy petitions to bolster their contention that people want--or don't want--the artwork.

One of them will go home unhappy. The way things are going, that is likely to be Gabriel, who has fought for years against Finkel's brainchild, Natural Elements Sculpture Park, a series of eight related pieces that are part of an overall coastal art plan.

Finkel says the sculpture garden complements nature and encourages public interaction with art. A trip to the beach "is not just sand in your sandwich," she said.

Gabriel and her supporters are equally vehement in maintaining that the beaches' natural beauty is best left unadorned. Works of art "distract from the magnificent scenic view of Santa Monica Bay," Gabriel said.

She has already lost a round with the Santa Monica City Council, which last year voted 6 to 1 to approve a comprehensive plan that called for 16 pieces of art along the coast, 13 of them at the shoreline. The council acted at the request of the Coastal Commission, which balked at approving the beach artwork on a piecemeal basis in 1989, saying it was impossible to ascertain the cumulative impact.

By that time, the council and the commission had already given the go-ahead to several pieces, including "Singing Beach Chairs" and "Art Tool."

The chairs, on the sand close to the roadway north of Pico Boulevard, resemble lifeguard chairs and make sounds like a pipe organ when wind blows through them.

Nearby is "Art Tool," a 12-ton concrete roller with an intricate relief pattern of a cityscape. When pulled by a tractor, it imprints the cityscape on the sand. Most of the time, the roller sits inside a chain-link fence.

The Coastal Commission staff is recommending approval of the city's art plan, which includes three more controversial works of art. But the staff suggests requiring separate approval by the commission for any further projects.

The three pending projects are a 14-foot statue of Mahatma Gandhi for Pacific Palisades Park; "Solar Web," a 52-foot-wide metal jungle-gym-like sculpture for the south beach area, and "Twilight and Yearning," featuring fishing boats strapped to pilings beneath the Santa Monica Pier. Finkel said this last work signifies the polluted state of the ocean; the boats will be unshackled when the pollution is cleaned up.

The Coastal Commission staff report said the three proposed works do not impede public access to the beach, nor would they detract significantly from the views.

City Councilman Robert T. Holbrook, who cast the lone vote against the plan, disagrees.

"I don't think anyone in the world ever came to Palisades Park to look at the statuary," he said.

The Coastal Commission public hearing is at 9 a.m. at Crown Plaza Holiday Inn, 5985 W. Century Blvd., Los Angeles.

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