City Mulls Pulling the Plug on Park Sculptures

City Mulls Pulling the Plug on Park Sculptures

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Twelve sculptures resembling street signs by the artist Roberto Salas line Park Boulevard.

 

The city of San Diego may de-install and destroy 12 outdoor sculptures it commissioned to help spruce up the city for the 1988 Super Bowl. The city paid $11,000 to acquire the pieces in 1989, intending to leave them on display for 10 years. It’s been more than twice that long now, and the city’s public art manager Dana Springs found they’re looking a bit long-in-the-tooth.

It’s rare for the city to “deaccession” a public artwork. Only four others — a faded mural in Ocean Beach, shabby-looking artwork on a bridge in Pacific Beach — have had the non-honor. But the city thinks it might start happening more often.

The sculptures in question are called “Night Visions” — 12 pieces that resemble playful versions of street signs, stationed along Park Boulevard between Zoo Place and Village Place. The artist, Roberto Salas, applied reflective vinyl and colored paint to aluminum structures to make the sculptures vibrant during the day and at night.

Now the vinyl’s peeling, the aluminum is torn and holey in places and the poles are scratched and faded. Some of the sculptures are wobbly and askew. And two of the sculptures are just missing entirely.

The city sets aside money from construction projects, usually 2 percent of their cost, to pay artists to make sculptures, murals, paintings or other pieces to be integrated into properties or parks. Including those, the city has about 700 pieces in its collection, though some, like “Night Visions,” comprise multiple components.

Though it’s been rare so far, Springs said more public artworks may be removed from the city’s collection. It’s an interesting process.

“It’s probably going to be a little more common because we have a lot of stuff that’s beyond rescue-able condition,” she said. “We have a lot of old stuff in our collection.”

There are several factors that can trigger the process. Here are a few, from city public art policy:

• The condition or security of the Artwork cannot be reasonably guaranteed;

• The Artwork has been damaged and repair is impractical or unfeasible;

• The Artwork’s physical or structural condition poses a threat to public safety;

• No suitable site is available, or significant changes in the use, character or design of the site have occurred which affect the integrity of the work;

In this case, Springs solicited estimates from both the artist and an independent party to restore the artwork. Estimates ranged from $12,000 to $40,000, she said. (The city paid $11,000 for them 23 years ago.)

Springs concluded it’d cost more to restore the art than they’re worth.

Salas, the artist, feels differently. He sent me the city’s report this morning. He wants the pieces to stay.

But Springs said she’s in the middle of evaluating all of the public art in Balboa Park with hopes of restoring some before 2015, when the city will celebrate the centennial of the 1915 exposition that created key structures in the park.

She’s found a mural in the Balboa Park Club scarred by the stapled balloons of over-eager party decorators. She’s found water damage on giant murals in the Air and Space Museum. She’s found the 1935-era Woman of Tehuantepec, one of my favorite pieces of art in the park, looking a little worn-down.

Against those needs, should the city invest in restoring “Night Visions,” 23 years later?

The final decision won’t happen until the city’s Public Art Committee and Commission for Arts and Culture have a chance to weigh in, probably in the next couple of months. The city says Salas would be given the option of taking the artwork back before it destroys them.

In 1989, Salas told the Los Angeles Times the pieces would connect with people driving past.

“My work is about the mobile society, the vehicle, everything the vehicle represents,” Salas said. “This is designed for someone driving along in a vehicle. The vehicle becomes the museum or the gallery.” The reflective vinyl allows drivers to have a passing encounter with the artworks even at night.”

Springs said the city owns the “Night Vision” pieces and has the right to remove them, especially considering the 10-year intended exhibition period.

She still hears from people who miss a series of temporary artworks the Port commissioned along the waterfront.

“They had a good life,” she said. “Change is OK.”

What do you think of the pieces? Leave a comment below.

I’m Kelly Bennett, reporter for Voice of San Diego. You can reach me directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531.

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Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. You can reach her directly at kelly@vosd.org.

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18 comments
Sherry Wacht
Sherry Wacht subscriber

Please do not take down these signs. They are a part of our community. Art lasts forever and doesn't get old. I still have the art work from my kids when they went to school and put up the turkey at Thanksgiving and the Christmas ornaments every year, and my kids are all in their 30s now!! I'm not comparing Mr Salsa's art to a child's artwork, but trying to show that art work is inspired and is made to be enjoyed forever. Look at all the art work in museums. Many pieces are well over a hundred years old, but we still enjoy them. Please commission Mr Salsa to restore these pieces to their original beauty. He has contributed much to our community. Let his artwork continue to be enjoyed.

Swacht
Swacht

Please do not take down these signs. They are a part of our community. Art lasts forever and doesn't get old. I still have the art work from my kids when they went to school and put up the turkey at Thanksgiving and the Christmas ornaments every year, and my kids are all in their 30s now!! I'm not comparing Mr Salsa's art to a child's artwork, but trying to show that art work is inspired and is made to be enjoyed forever. Look at all the art work in museums. Many pieces are well over a hundred years old, but we still enjoy them. Please commission Mr Salsa to restore these pieces to their original beauty. He has contributed much to our community. Let his artwork continue to be enjoyed.

Carla Blackmar
Carla Blackmar subscribermember

I think we should restore these pieces, they are truly 'out of the box' sculptures in support of the type of public streets and spaces we want to see.

cablack
cablack

I think we should restore these pieces, they are truly 'out of the box' sculptures in support of the type of public streets and spaces we want to see.

Amy Morris
Amy Morris subscribermember

I would miss them - especially if nothing replaces them in that block. Why not commission Mr. Salas to repair those he can and create some new ones in the series for the same location? The city does have a fund for public art, doesn't it?

AmyM
AmyM

I would miss them - especially if nothing replaces them in that block. Why not commission Mr. Salas to repair those he can and create some new ones in the series for the same location? The city does have a fund for public art, doesn't it?

Peter Schrock
Peter Schrock subscribermember

Without meaningful curation or clear connection to their context, I'd suggest these particular pieces may have run their course as public art. I'd rather see them together in a gallery show (in all their weather-beaten glory) and have the money spent on something new.

pschrock
pschrock

Without meaningful curation or clear connection to their context, I'd suggest these particular pieces may have run their course as public art. I'd rather see them together in a gallery show (in all their weather-beaten glory) and have the money spent on something new.

Allison Rossett
Allison Rossett subscribermember

I remember when they were installed. Liked them very much. Hate to see them come down. Is there a new installation planned?

arossett
arossett

I remember when they were installed. Liked them very much. Hate to see them come down. Is there a new installation planned?

MaeLin Levine
MaeLin Levine subscriber

NO.....I love these sculptures, wish there were more!

MaeLin Levine
MaeLin Levine

NO.....I love these sculptures, wish there were more!

Mark Murphy
Mark Murphy subscriber

the maintenance of any art work, public or private, is a huge responsibility. if the city offered that their responsibility was to ensure the well being of these sculptures for a set amount of time, it seems that the good citizens of SD could align themselves with the city, raise money and relocate the works, maintain the works and enrich their neighborhood within SD. It seems like a huge opportunity for fans of public installation and a potential partnership to enhance the legacy of Roberto Salas. I am sure Roberto Salas would be happy to make it happen, he does live here and coordinates many enrichment programs.

murphydesign
murphydesign

the maintenance of any art work, public or private, is a huge responsibility. if the city offered that their responsibility was to ensure the well being of these sculptures for a set amount of time, it seems that the good citizens of SD could align themselves with the city, raise money and relocate the works, maintain the works and enrich their neighborhood within SD. It seems like a huge opportunity for fans of public installation and a potential partnership to enhance the legacy of Roberto Salas. I am sure Roberto Salas would be happy to make it happen, he does live here and coordinates many enrichment programs.

Ashley Lewis
Ashley Lewis administrator

We have a public art piece at the foot of Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach that is rusted and in terrible disrepair, and many members of the community would like nothing more than to see it go. I wish the city would be more proactive in removing art that is beyond its ability to restore before it starts to just look like junk. When these eye sores are owned by the city, community groups are powerless to do anything about them, despite all our best efforts to see them restored or removed.

AshleyPLewis
AshleyPLewis

We have a public art piece at the foot of Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach that is rusted and in terrible disrepair, and many members of the community would like nothing more than to see it go. I wish the city would be more proactive in removing art that is beyond its ability to restore before it starts to just look like junk. When these eye sores are owned by the city, community groups are powerless to do anything about them, despite all our best efforts to see them restored or removed.

Kevin Swanson
Kevin Swanson subscriber

I would certainly like to see a signature James Hubbell organic piece within Balboa Park, perhaps along Sixth Avenue or Park Boulevard outside of the NHLD boundaries. Along those lines, relocating the Museum of Art's Sculpture Garden and restoration of the torn down building is probably too much to ask.

SanDiego2015
SanDiego2015

I would certainly like to see a signature James Hubbell organic piece within Balboa Park, perhaps along Sixth Avenue or Park Boulevard outside of the NHLD boundaries. Along those lines, relocating the Museum of Art's Sculpture Garden and restoration of the torn down building is probably too much to ask.