Four-story matchstick sculpture outside Civic Center may enter Newport’s permanent collection


The Newport Beach Arts Commission is hoping fellow art lovers will help make permanent one of the sculptures in the rotating exhibit outside City Hall.

The sculpture is “Burnt Matchstick,” a towering, stained-glass matchstick that glows near the driveway at the main entrance to the Newport Beach Civic Center.

The price tag is $55,000. The funding would be private and raised through the nonprofit that supports the commission, the Newport Beach Arts Foundation, which would then donate the sculpture to the city.


Arts commissioners unanimously backed exploring the option to buy the piece Thursday. Commission Vice Chair Michelle Bendetti and Chair Arlene Greer agreed to research setting aside additional funds for maintenance.

At 40 feet tall, and with LED lights illuminating the blue and gold-toned stained glass and acrylic panels of its body and gnarled tip, “Burnt Matchstick” is one of the most visible pieces in the park’s sculpture garden. The public art program, which invites artists nationwide to submit their works to sit in the park for two years, is entering its fourth phase this year.

“Burnt Matchstick” was one of nine pieces installed in 2017. It is scheduled to be removed this summer and sent back to its creator, Karl Unnasch, assuming the foundation doesn’t buy it.

A selection panel tabbed the piece its top choice when winnowing nearly 50 artists’ applications for the current phase. The sculpture also placed in the top 10 in an online poll.

It wouldn’t be the first time the Arts Foundation has rallied to buy a sculpture that had been part of the rotating exhibit. Sphere 112, an orb of curved steel rods welded into an intricate lace-like network, joined the city’s permanent public art inventory in 2017 after the foundation purchased it for $15,000.

The Arts Commission will next take up the potential purchase at its March meeting.