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LAPD's public art has weathered storms

October 23, 2009 |  1:00 pm

Parker facade When I was writing the other day about Peter Shelton's sculptural ensemble for the new Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, I decided to stop by Parker Center, the old police HQ that sparked a huge firestorm over public art when it opened in 1955. (You can read about the earlier ruckus here.) The minute I got there I thought, “Distance lends enchantment to the view.”

Bernard “Tony” Rosenthal's abstract bronze wall relief just to the right of the entrance doors is a minor sculpture by a minor artist, produced at a time when painting is where most of postwar Modern art's adventurous action was in America. And at any rate, as I noted in my Shelton review, it wasn't the relative quality of the art that caused the uproar back then -- a dozen years would pass before another abstract sculpture would be commissioned for a downtown public space -- an uproar that seems quaint when faced with Rosenthal's sculpture today.

In fact, there's no getting around how great the ensemble of sculpture and building (by Welton Becket & Associates) looks now, more than 50 years on, especially at the glass-and-ceramic-tile entry. The original golden hue of Rosenthal's relief has gone dark, the shabby garden beneath it needs attention and subsequent construction around Parker Center has altered the light-filled transparency of the setting; but, although some have suggested tearing down the place now that the LAPD is moving out, as a midcentury Modern period piece it's smashing.

“Distance lends enchantment to the view.” The phrase comes from “The Pleasures of Hope” (1799), a long and sentimental Romantic poem in rhyming couplets -- lots of exclamation points and yearning question marks are scattered throughout -- by Scottish writer Thomas Campbell. He was no Wordsworth or Coleridge; but the sentiment expressed in perhaps his most well-known phrase is certainly apt:

At summer eve, when Heaven's ethereal bow
Spans with bright arch the glittering bills below,
Why to yon mountain turns the musing eye,
Whose sunbright summit mingles with the sky?
Why do those clifts of shadowy tint appear
More sweet than all the landscape smiling near? —
'T is distance lends enchantment to the view,
And robes the mountain in its azure hue.

It's a long journey from here to there. Time's passage always softens perceptions.

A few more photos of the Parker Center ensemble are after the jump.

Rosenthal entrance
Rosenthal column
Bernard Rosenthal 1

-- Christopher Knight

Photos: Parker Center. Credit: Christopher Knight / Los Angeles Times

Related:

Shelton monkey Public art review: Peter Shelton's ''sixbeaststwomonkeys'

Sculptures at LAPD's new home likened to 'cow splat''

Peter Shelton's whimsy, all in a row, for the L.A. police HQ

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