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Sculpture Supported

June 23, 1985

Henry M. Marshall Jr. has written a bitter and angry invective against public art, the Kelly proposal and the Port Commission Arts Advisory Committee without giving us a single constructive hint about what he envisions "public taste" in visual art to be ("Public Art Should Suit Public's Taste," June 16).

He cites the Serra in New York, the only work ever to be removed, out of hundreds accomplished and pointed to with civic pride--including Chicago's Picasso. He cites "Big River." But one wonders if he bought season tickets and supported the La Jolla Playhouse in its beginning struggles. Perhaps he won't notice that the writer, the actors, the musicians, the director come from all over--including Back East.

One is tempted to think that Marshall's lack of suggestions arises from the fear of being as roundly criticized as he is willing to be negative about the efforts of others. The Port Commission Arts Advisory Committee knew it was taking on a difficult task, but we felt--and still hope--San Diego is growing and culturally lively and capable of a generous outlook.

We recommended Ellsworth Kelly because of the visual elegance and simplicity that we felt would be accessible and understandable to a vast cross section of the public. Who does not appreciate the beauty of the simple lines of the Coronado Bridge, the masts and hulls of the many boats, of a bird in flight, a horizon?

We felt this piece would be a visual respite and a joy to behold in an often cluttered and busy urban life. We felt it could be as uplifting to people's spirits as a spire on a church can be, that it would with great dignity mark this corner of the United States, edge of the water, gateway to the Pacific, entrance to the bay. We felt that the scale would be appropriate for the site and the buildings around, that the work would in no way interfere with present and future activity of all kinds.

We looked at hundreds of slides of artists from San Diego and all over the world. We brought all our personal and professional experience with great seriousness and enthusiasm to the task. We felt lucky and extremely pleased that Kelly was excited and responsive to the site, the light, the skyline--that he felt something truly significant could be done for the budget, that he's had considerable experience in large scale work so we were not putting the port's money at risk and could be confident in his visual decisions. We felt other cities watching with envy. We were pleased with the endorsement of every major arts organization in San Diego, the CCDC Board and other civic leaders. We received letters of congratulations from museum and art leaders around the country.

The board was aware that it is not possible to please everyone every time. Because we agreed unanimously that Kelly was so far and away the best recommendation we could make for this site, it seemed inappropriate to undertake the expensive and lengthy process of soliciting further proposals. The port did not ask us for multiple choices--it asked for a recommendation. We think Kelly will respond positively to the concerns expressed by port commissioners about the proposed concrete element.

We think we have a winner, but we know that some people will have to see it to believe it. We knew that many would love it right off. We felt that others who might have been skeptical and disdainful would, over time, be surprised at how much they grew to like the work. We dreamt of other sculptures to follow, chosen by different committees who would have an easier time because once a city gets going, everyone is proud.


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