Pasadena gets complaints over plans for 2 sculptures

Two works of public art proposed for the front of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium have drawn complaints from some residents and preservationists.

The sculptures, mixed-media contemporary pieces, are being criticized not so much for their artistic expression, but because of their prospective size and location.

As part of a $120-million project to build two convention centers flanking the auditorium, the city’s Arts and Culture Commission recommended erecting the sculptures in the plaza of the auditorium. In city construction projects, 1% of the budget is required to be spent on public art.

But members of Pasadena’s historic preservation community, along with people involved in running the centers, have been vocal in their opposition to the choice of art, saying the pieces would be too big for the plaza and detract from the architecture of the buildings.


The sculptures were approved by the arts commission earlier this month but the final decision is in the hands of the City Council, which will vote on the matter in an upcoming meeting.

One of the sculptures, “Thinking Caps,” by New York City artist Dennis Oppenheim, was commissioned by the city for $300,000. It would be 15 feet high at its peak, with a 30-foot diameter. The other one, “Light Field,” commissioned for $500,000 from German artist Hans Peter Kuhn, would consist of light tubes 6 feet 8 inches high on a rectangular base that is 15 feet by 38 feet. Neither sculpture has been built yet, nor have the artists been paid their full commissions.

“We don’t pretend to be art critics or the arbiters of what is appropriate public art for this space,” said Susan Mossman, executive director of Pasadena Heritage, a historic preservation organization.

Mossman’s concern is that the sculptures would draw attention from the architecture of the 1920s auditorium and the convention center additions, which were built to match.

“It really is a beautiful building; to us that’s the statement,” she said. Because the sculptures would be “so large, it presents a major conflict with experiencing the architecture.”

Mossman said the sculptures would interfere with the plaza’s purpose as a place for people to mingle, a position also shared by the board of the Pasadena Center Operating Company, which manages the center.

“Our board wants to keep the plaza clear, and took the position that the building is art itself,” said Michael Ross, the company’s chief executive.

Rochelle Branch, the city’s cultural arts manager, said having sculptures in the plaza was always the goal ever since the art portion of the project began in early 2006. Part of their directive from the outset was to maintain the facade of the auditorium, which Branch said is not the same thing as having no art.


The arts commission conducted an extensive search for the sculptors, beginning with an open call that netted more than 400 entries, Branch said. Artists submitted proposals and the finalists were interviewed.

Oppenheim and Kuhn were ultimately chosen because “they scored the highest regarding the selection criteria,” she said.

Galerie Gabrie owner Jasminka Chenich-Gabrie, whose East Green Street gallery features mostly landscapes and portraits, didn’t express any concerns about either the size or location of the art but was offended that the two artists chosen were not locals.

She said no one from the city contacted her or other gallery owners seeking the names of area artists.


“So you end up with these [sculptures] that has people scratching their heads wondering who is this person?” she said.

Hector Pedraza, owner of Nova Picture Framing and an abstract painter, hadn’t heard of the controversy over the sculptures but said they would have to be “really horrible and disgusting” to not fit in with the buildings’ architecture.

But he drew the line at certain forms of artistic expression, saying, “Now, they’re not going to put Mickey Mouse, are they?”