'Collar and Bow' comes untied

Times Staff Writer

"COLLAR and Bow" -- a major outdoor sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, designed for the Walt Disney Concert Hall and scheduled to be installed this summer -- has been put on hold, stalled by a technical problem requiring two components to be rebuilt at a cost that may be prohibitive, the Music Center and the artists say.

The 65-foot-tall metal and fiberglass sculpture takes the shape of a men's dress shirt collar and bowtie. Set for installation on the sidewalk at the corner of 1st Street and Grand Avenue, the artwork was intended to complement the sail-like curves of the concert hall, designed by architect Frank O. Gehry.

The foundation of the sculpture, the bowtie, its band and the base of the collar are complete. One of two upper sections of the collar was finished too, but it began to come apart in December, said Stephen D. Rountree, president of the Music Center of Los Angeles County. After several months of study, the artists, architect, engineers and fabricators determined that the problem affected the structural integrity and viability of the sculpture, he said, and that the only way to fix it is to remake the two parts of the upper collar using different engineering and fabrication methods.

"We are deeply disappointed," Rountree said. "We worked really hard to make this happen, and we are very committed to Claes and Coosje. Unfortunately, the estimated cost to remake those two things is over $3 million, which is more than we originally budgeted for the entire thing. The Music Center has already invested in excess of $4 million for the sculpture, and our board cannot commit additional funds." Music Center patrons Richard and Geri Brawerman and the J. Paul Getty Trust have been the project's major funders.

The artists and the architect have not given up the project, they say, but they may have to tap outside resources.

"It may come to that," Van Bruggen said. "We are determined to get the piece up. Three-quarters of the piece is ready. Problems can arise; it has happened before. But up 'til now, not one sculpture of ours hasn't gone up."

The only thing she and Oldenburg will not do, she said, is to install a sculpture that does not measure up to their standards. "Collar and Bow" has been fabricated by Carlson & Co., a San Fernando Valley firm that works with many artists.

Gehry said that "Collar and Bow" is "an important piece" that will visually connect Disney Hall with future commercial development across Grand Avenue.

"I love the piece," he said. "We jumped in when we heard it was having problems. I put my guys on it to investigate where and how and why and what was going on, to see if we could be of any help. The connections between the upper and lower part of the collar failed, and they need to be rebuilt.

"The costs are huge," Gehry said. "We are trying to figure out a way to reduce those costs and solve the engineering in a more efficient, cost-effective way. We need some time to do that. We've also got to do some fund-raising, which is hard in this climate.

"I'm not a fund-raiser, but I am laying my body on the tracks for this piece."

Oldenburg, Van Bruggen and Gehry began to conceptualize "Collar and Bow" in 1993. As the idea evolved, the artists designed an enormous sculpture meant to look as if it had been flung into the air and had landed lightly on the sidewalk. Many changes occurred while the work was in process. It grew from a height of about 35 feet to nearly twice that, and an unexpected slant in the sidewalk required tilting the artwork on its foundation.

Oldenburg and Van Bruggen, who have been partners in marriage and art since 1977, have completed many monumental projects, including a giant bow and arrow in San Francisco, a flashlight in Las Vegas and a baseball bat in Chicago. The latest is "Big Sweep," a 35-foot-tall broom and dustpan, in process of installation at the Denver Art Museum. But the artists have said that "Collar and Bow" has been their most complicated, technically challenging work. And the challenges continue.

"We are about the aesthetics," Van Bruggen said. "We are not engineers. The aesthetics are definitely in place, and it breaks my heart to think that the piece won't go up. We are hopeful that at one point in time it will be gracing the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

"Frank wants it to be here, and we want it to be there, and we have to hope that the community wants it to be there."

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