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Pasadena City Council rejects proposed public art works

January 29, 2009 | 12:58 pm

Oppenheim_concept Kuhn_concept

The Pasadena City Council has voted to reject a recommendation by the Pasadena Arts & Culture Commission to install controversial public artworks of light tubes and giant caps on the plaza in front of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

At a meeting earlier this week, the City Council voted instead to accept a recommendation by Pasadena City Manager Michael Beck to seek alternatives for the space.

The proposed “Light Field” (right) by German artist Hans Peter Kuhn consists of light tubes 6 feet, 8 inches high on a base that is 15 feet by 38 feet. “Thinking Caps,” by New York City sculptor Dennis Oppenheim, consists of three giant hats and would stand 15 feet high at its peak.

Plans for the installations — solicited by the Arts & Culture Commission and approved by the group in December — had drawn complaints from some residents and preservationists who said that the mixed-media contemporary pieces were too big for the plaza and would detract from the architecture of the buildings...

The Arts & Culture Commission recommended the artworks be installed as part of a $120 million project to build two convention centers flanking the auditorium. In city construction projects, 1% of the construction budget must be spent on public art.

Pasadena Heritage, a historic preservation organization, voiced objections in December. Its executive director, Susan Mossman, said that the organization did not object to the sculpture designs but thought the sculptures would draw attention from the 1920s auditorium.

Ann Erdman, a spokeswoman for the city, said that the City Council’s 6-2 vote to accept the city manager’s recommendation allows the staff of the city’s Cultural Affairs office and the Arts & Culture Commission 90 days to come back to the City Council with another proposal.

Because the project has “caused a tremendous amount of passion” on the part of the community, Erdman said that the city will ensure that the public is made more aware of, and is included in, the new proposal process.

The city manager’s recommendation also calls for the views of the Pasadena Civic Operating Co., which manages the auditorium and other surrounding facilities, to be taken into consideration in the selection process. That organization’s board of directors has said that it strongly opposes the idea of any public artwork or other permanent fixtures being installed on the plaza.

The total budget for the planned installation would have been $1.2 million. About $150,000 of that has already been spent on artist selection and the planning phase.

Terry LeMoncheck, executive director of the Pasadena Arts Council, a nonprofit arts advocacy organization not affiliated with city government, said that the Pasadena Civic Operating Co.’s position could be the “kiss of death” for any new installation. “We believe the plaza should showcase a piece of public art,” she said.

More information and images of the works can be found on the city of Pasadena’s Cultural Affairs Web page.

--Diane Haithman

Images provided by the artists courtesy of the City of Pasadena.