Arts Commission declines 'Skydivers' sculpture

Due to the need for costly renovations, the city of Newport Beach will not accept a donated bronze sculpture once displayed at Fashion Island.

The Newport Beach Arts Commission unanimously voted Thursday to decline the Irvine Co.'s donation of "Skydivers" because of the estimated $135,000-plus cost of renovating, moving and installing the iconic work.

"It really is such a piece of our history and our community that would be lovely to keep," if it weren't for the cost of renovation, said commission Chairwoman Robyn Grant.

Aristides Demetrios' "Skydivers" — which depicted three skydivers, all with outstretched arms toward one another to form a triangular shape — was commissioned in the 1960s, then towered over the shopping center's Atrium Lawn for nearly half a century.

The Arts Commission, which previously voted to recommend that the City Council accept the artwork, rescinded its original vote.

"I'm just going to suggest, as gracious as it was for the Irvine Co. to offer this, it doesn't comply with our policy," said Commissioner Robert Smith.

The commission also cited city guidelines for accepting artistic works.

"The art should be of satisfactory physical condition," according to a city policy governing donated art, and "be sufficiently durable as to not be easily damaged or destroyed, should not require restoration or extensive long-term conservation, and should be of a physical size and weight that it can be managed in storage, transport and public display without difficulty."

"Skydivers" was removed in 2010 as part of a $100-million project that brought new architecture, landscaping and common-area amenities to Fashion Island, Irvine Co. spokeswoman Erin Freeman said in an email.

Freeman said the Arts Commission expressed interested in including "Skydivers" in the city's planned sculpture park, and the Irvine Co., which has been holding the bronze work, agreed to donate it.

"In the meantime, we've had others express interest in the statues and will now begin to explore those alternatives," she said.

The sculpture has what is called "bronze disease" and was estimated by two bronze experts to cost a minimum of $35,000 to restore, Smith said.

The sculpture would also need 25-foot-tall concert pedestals. Moving and installing the piece would cost up another $100,000.

"We felt the piece was historically important, but when we looked at all the other criteria, we felt like we couldn't in good conscience" recommend it to the City Council, Smith said.

The commission will send a letter to the Newport Beach-based Irvine Co. declining the donation.

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