A controversy has been bubbling over Paul Conrad's anti-nuclear war sculpture in Santa Monica, Chain Reaction, and the latest fallout may spell the end of the 26-foot tall mushroom cloud near the city's Civic Center.
With the deterioration of the steel, fiberglass and copper sculpture, mostly due to the sea air and sun, Santa Monica's Arts Commission and Public Art Committee have recommended the city deaccession the five-and-a-half-ton piece rather than attempt to preserve it. Citing public-safety concerns, the city erected a temporary fence around the sculpture in June.
Installed in 1991, the sculpture was a gift to the city by the artist, paid for by an anonymous donor for $250,000. It was supposed to have been made of bronze, which tends to require little maintenance and resists the elements over time. Instead, the piece was constructed with a stainless steel internal frame, a Fiberglas core and copper tubing for the chain links.
According to the Arts Commission recommendation, to repair the sculpture the city would need to invest between $227,372 and $423,172. In contrast, demolishing the sculpture would cost about $20,000. Additionally, given the materials used, according to Jessica Cusick, cultural affairs manager for Santa Monica, “The long-term stability of the work is in question. We may just be handing off the problem for another decade or two.”
From its inception, the work has been controversial. Conrad was the longtime editorial cartoonist for the L.A. Times and won three Pulitzer Prizes for his political charged drawings. It took four years for the city to accept Conrad's gift after it was offered, with visitors to Santa Monica's City Hall overwhelmingly voting against it. Nonetheless, the City Council eventually approved the piece by a narrow vote of 4-to-3 in 1990.
Today, supporters have rallied to try to save the sculpture. Anti-nuclear war activist Jerry Rubin has been spearheading the effort to preserve it, collecting signatures from the community to express support. “This is an iconic sculpture,” he says. “To get rid of it would be unconscionable.”
And there may still be hope for the sculpture after all. The Arts Commission recently added an amendment to its recommendation asking for a six-month reprieve at its meeting two nights ago. This would allow Conrad's family and supporters time to fund-raise for the sculpture to pay for a full restoration. The recommendation is expected to be presented to the City Council in March for a decision.