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 or 619.325.0531.

And follow Behind the Scene on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett

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

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