In Santa Monica, a Benchmark for Public Art

Griffith Park has more acreage, MacArthur more edgy cachet. But Santa Monica's Douglas Park has a feature its cross-town cousins don't: artist-designed picnic tables where you can fend off ants in style.

As part of a $1.4-million renovation of the four-acre green space at Wilshire Boulevard and 25th Street, Santa Monica commissioned husband-and-wife New York artists Allan and Ellen Wexler to create sculptures that complement the park's original 1930s design. The result, unveiled late last year, is "Tables of Content," 11 pieces that riff whimsically on the splinter-inducing plank furnishings in most public parks.

Rendered in plantation-grown mahogany (Santa Monica bans municipal use of rain forest woods) the installation includes "Table With Boulder" "Table With Tree" (built around a towering elm), and "Playhouse Table for Children," an outsize table fitted with sides, window openings and a half-scale table underneath for kids. One sculpture has a toddler-size stairway and slide on either side of the table; another consists of two back-to-back benches. "We tried to help people see the possibility of invention in any situation," Allan Wexler says.

Can culture and cold cuts be happy together? The aesthetic atmosphere hasn't reduced graffiti. "They are taking the same beating our other tables do, unfortunately," says Brett Horner, a senior analyst in the Santa Monica Community and Cultural Services Department.

As for picnickers, reactions were mixed on a recent summer afternoon. Shelley Hoover, 47, was attempting to eat her Taco Bell meal at "Playhouse Table for Children." "This table is odd," she said, her feet dangling above the ground like a character in "Pee-Wee's Playhouse." But at "Table With Boulder," Frumi Gluck said she appreciated a change from the everyday. Setting out sandwiches for her family, Gluck didn't mind that the 4-foot-high boulder centerpiece left little room for food. "We can always put the kids on the other side of the rock so I can have a nice dinner with my husband."

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