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Santa Monica Arts Commission Paves Way for Dismantling of "Chain Reaction"  


By Jason Islas
Lookout Staff

February 3, 2012 -- "Chain Reaction," the 26-foot sculpture of a mushroom cloud that is perhaps Santa Monica's most iconic public artwork, should be dismantled, the City's top arts panels decided Wednesday.

With a few supporters of the work in attendance, the Arts Commission and Public Art Committee voted in a special meeting to recommend that the City Council vote to remove the 26-foot sculpture created by Pulitzer-prize-winning cartoonist Paul Conrad two decades ago due to public safety concerns.

Only one of the two dozen members of the joint panel voted to oppose the recommendation. The others all agreed that the City should not spend between $227,372 to $423,172 to save the sculpture, which according to staff is “in need of major conservation and its structural integrity appears compromised.”

The joint panel, however, voted to recommend that the council wait six months before removing the work in the hopes an interested party can come up with the funds to preserve the sculpture, which was built with $250,000 contributed by an anonymous donor.

Jessica Cusick, Santa Monica's Cultural Affairs Manager, reported that the City had been in touch with the artist's son, David Conrad, and that he had expressed interest in trying to raise funds to preserve his father's work.

Wednesday's recommendation comes after structural engineers retained by the City found that many of the fasteners that attach the copper tubing chain to the fiberglass core were either missing, not fully imbedded or exhibited severe corrosion.

The City would need to conduct additional tests, which could further damage the sculpture, to determine how much restoration would be required, officials said.

Even with more testing “no one can tell us how long the fiberglass structure will last,” Cusick said.

Cusick stressed that the City is strapped for cash after Redevelopment Agencies (RDAs) across the state were dissolved February 1 under Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to help bridge California's budget gap.

“With RDA funding going away today, most of our public art funding went with it,” Cusick said.

According to staff, removal of the sculpture would cost approximately $20,000.

Not everyone is willing to let the sculpture go quietly. Representatives of Save Our Sculpture showed up at Wednesday's meeting to oppose the staff recommendation adopted by the joint panel.

Jerry Rubin, the local activist who started the group, said that the message conveyed by the work is too important to vanquish. He held up a sign from an old anti-nuclear protest that read, “Better Active Today Than Radioactive Tomorrow.”

Several speakers echoed Rubin's sentiments, with one calling the sculpture “our conscience.”

Advocates for the sculpture urged the City to look into alternatives to removing the sculpture, including sectioning off the work.

The matter will likely go before the Council in March, Cusick said.

If the Council moves forward with "deaccession," the sculpture would be offered to Conrad's family or to any arts institution of their choosing, Cusick said.

The sculpture would also be documented and a record of it would be made available to the public through the library and online.


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