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We are big fans of seeing art in progress, peeking in at a process that’s often hidden. We followed the usually secret work of hanging an exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Art earlier this year, and the bustle behind the curtain as the San Diego Opera prepared to mount a production.

Here’s a chance to see a sculpture as it’s created: I came across a neat peek at the work of building a new Nancy Rubins piece at Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y. this morning. (Hat tip to Tyler Green.)

Rubins is the artist who made the permanent boats sculpture that you can see on the back of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s La Jolla location. The 2006 piece is called “Pleasure Point.”

Rubins also planned to build a boats-themed sculpture here in the late 1990s, but she was later brusquely un-hired.

From Union-Tribune’s former art critic, Bob Pincus, in a 2006 story:

Boats, some will recall, were the central element of Rubins’ marvelous proposal for San Diego that was never built. It was intended, back in 1999, as a kind of signature artwork for the San Diego Convention Center — an arch of salvaged boats that was to be an architectural flourish over Harbor Drive.

Every element of a plan seemed in place for the prospective work. The Port of San Diego, the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture and the San Diego Convention Center Corporation had formed a joint selection committee that chose Rubins and her proposal. The funds were in place as well. But with the first signs of public dissent, the board of the convention center ended up voting against it and Rubins’ project was killed.

In a San Diego Reader story after the Convention Center board voted, 4-3, to fire Rubins, writer Thomas Larson captured the artist’s disdain for the outcome and for board member Steve Cushman, who voted against the boat piece some dissenters had termed a “shipwreck:”

“Friends said to me, ‘You know, Nancy, San Diego is really a provincial city. It’s immature, and you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting your work accepted.’ They told me it’s full of small-minded people. And, Mr. Cushman, you just proved them right. I’m sorry you’re so petty.”

That ill-fated commission was the first time, Pincus wrote, that Rubins had proposed working with boats. She’s since found popular success with the theme, including being hired to make a temporary installation in front of the Lincoln Center in New York City.

In a Newsweek story about controversial public art, the local museum politely noted that the sculpture was becoming iconic in La Jolla. Interviewed for that story, Pincus said it makes sense that people love a piece at a museum that they might’ve scorned on Harbor Drive:

“Now people don’t complain about it. Part of the reason they don’t is that it’s on museum grounds. Museums can do what they want. But if it was out in public, they’d be outraged.”

What do you think? Do you wish San Diego would’ve installed Rubins’ original piece in the late 1990s? Do you like her sculpture in La Jolla? Leave me a comment below or on Facebook.

I am the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at or 619.325.0531. Or you can keep up with me on Twitter @kellyrbennett or on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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