It is not quite an eleventh hour pardon from the governor or president, but Paul Conrad’s “Chain Reaction” has, at least for now, avoided life support as the Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved giving the sculpture’s supporters until Nov. 15 to raise enough money to help restore the fading piece of public art located in the Civic Center.
The extension at the very least delays “Chain Reaction” from being removed.
With the council vote, private fundraising has been given a green light to raise between the estimated $227,372 and $423,172 in costs required for repair and conservation of the structure.
The extension also allows for various tests of the structure to be completed, including the testing of fiberglass samples, radiology analysis, visual inspections, and a calculated structural analysis. City Hall has reported that is has already spent more than $20,000 on initial assessment work.
“The sculpture, installed in 1991, is in need of major conservation work and its structural integrity appears compromised,” a staff report to council members stated. “Removal of the artwork would cost $20,000.”
Ron Takiguchi, a principal engineer and building inspector with City Hall, said “Chain Reaction” is in need of additional testing, but that the sculpture is in definite need of repair and additional testing.
Members of the Conrad family joined supporters in requesting the council allow more time for private fundraising and delay the planned removal of “Chain Reaction.”
“Paul loved the city of Santa Monica and was very grateful they allowed him to put up the ‘Chain Reaction’ in the most public of places,” Kay Conrad, the widow of Paul Conrad, told council members. “This sculpture represents one of the greatest things that he did as an artist.”
Paul Conrad’s son, David, added with the amount of funding recommended to repair the project, a whole new “Chain Reaction” – one that perhaps be built for longevity – could potentially be erected from scratch.
Local activist Jerry Rubin added City Hall has an “obligation” to preserve public art pieces such as “Chain Reaction.”
“This is too important and we need to come together,” Rubin said. “We can do it better now. We have the obligation to do it better now, not only for public art, but for the message this entails.”
Meanwhile, Arts Commissioner Chair Mike Myers said that “Chain Reaction” embodied the true spirit of art because it created a lively discussion amongst Santa Monicans.
“One of the purposes of art is to elicit a response,” Myers told the Council, adding that the creation of a six-month window to raise funds to save “Chain Reaction” is “the fair choice and the right choice.”
Responses have indeed been elicited about “Chain Reaction” since before it was erected.
“From the very beginning it was controversial. It was a statement of peace, but also one our community was divided about,” said Community and Cultural Services Director Karen Ginsburg.
When the city council accepted Paul Conrad’s sculpture as a gift to Santa Monica in 1990, it was not without debate and fanfare.
Originally offered to Santa Monica (and other cities) in 1988, stakeholders provided public input between July and October 1989 based upon a model sculpture of “Chain Reaction” displayed in City Hall.
“Of those surveyed, 730 citizens recommended against the City accepting the sculpture and 392 citizens favored its acceptance,” according to the staff report.
Despite the lack of public support, Arts Commissioners still “voted three separate times over the course of the entire review process, each time to accept the gift” before the council ultimately approved the erection of “Chain Reaction.” A private donation of $250,000 to the Santa Monica Arts Foundation helped fund the sculpture’s construction.
Among the other provisions of the council-approved construction, according to staff, was that “Chain Reaction” would be made of bronze and “an agreement with the artist which provides that the work can be relocated, removed and or destroyed at the discretion of the City.”
“However, as actually fabricated, the sculpture is made of copper tubing over a fiberglass core with an internal frame of stainless steel. These materials, while durable, do not have the same permanence in an outdoor setting as cast bronze,” the staff report stated.
Ginsburg added that Paul Conrad, while a Pulitzer-winning political cartoonist who “created a number of … small scale bronze busts of political figures that resembled his caricatures,” might not have been versed in outdoor sculptures enough to build long-lasting structures amidst the elements. She also stated while it would be difficult to oversee the potential deaccession of “Chain Reaction,” the costs of maintaining it in its current state appear to be prohibitive.
“It’s very difficult, as someone who oversees the arts collection, to recommend a removal a work of art that is so iconic and beloved by so many people,” Ginsburg said. “The investment involved is really out of sync with a piece that was, in our opinion, never really properly designed to be displayed outdoors permanently in such a difficult setting.”
The Arts and Landmarks Commissions both supported providing the community time to raise funds.
Mayor Richard Bloom added he was personally influenced by Paul Conrad’s work.
“He’s probably one of the reasons I became interested in politics,” Bloom said. “He was provocative and spoke about things I cared about.”
“Chain Reaction” is located on Main Street across from both RAND headquarters and the Civic Auditorium.