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Getting Away From The Galleries : Newport Project Hopes To Make Art More Accessible To Public

May 16, 1986|CHALON SMITH

Sculptor R. Bret Price says the importance of outdoor art is its accessibility.

Price, whose monumental steel sculpture "Metalphor" will be unwrapped Saturday as a fixture in front of Newport Beach City Hall, doesn't believe that all art should be cloistered away in museums or galleries.

Price, 36, of Orange feels certain pieces should be displayed where people in the midst of mundane activities--walking in the park, paying a bill at city hall--can enjoy them.

"It excites me to think that someone just strolling by or doing other everyday things can look at my work, maybe even respond to my (creative) ideas," Price said. "Giving everyone that opportunity, no matter what the time of day or weather, is great. That easy access is important because we need art in our lives."

The Newport Beach City Art Commission concurs with Price's philosophy. Saturday's unveiling is intended to spotlight the commission's ongoing efforts to beautify the city through more public art, according to Patti-Gene Sampson, the chairwoman of the seven-member commission.

The abstract work, which weighs 1,400 pounds, is the centerpiece of the 22nd annual Newport Beach City Art Festival. The royal-blue piece is scheduled to be dedicated at noon, with the festival at City Hall and nearby Via Lido Plaza continuing until Sunday afternoon.

Sampson said Warren Hancock, a Newport Beach art collector, donated the $15,000 sculpture to help the city move nearer its public art goal. The commission, which advises the City Council on art matters, was allowed to pick from Hancock's several sculptures and quickly chose "Metalphor," she noted.

"We liked many of the pieces but felt this was the best for us," Sampson said. "It's steel, but the way it's been worked (gives) it a fluid, gorgeous quality. There are parts of it that look like water flowing."

The curvilinear form was created by intense heating of the metal to make it malleable. The steel sheets were repeatedly bent and rolled during this elastic period to give it "a sense of softness (and an) illusion of flexibility," Price explained.

"That appearance of fluidity in what is a very rigid, hard material presents what I feel is a compelling effect," he added. "I think there's even a little mystery in it."

Price, who has exhibited his work at the Laguna Beach Museum of Art and several Orange County galleries, hopes people will approach "Metalphor" without bias and not be intimidated by its abstract design. He knows the City Hall location will ensure a steady audience and is eager for the sculpture to be accepted.

"I know some people don't like abstracts, but I think if they look at it closely, they may find it unusual and interesting," he said. "It now belongs to the public domain, and for that reason I hope they like it."

Sampson acknowledged that the sculpture will probably not have universal appeal. Newport Beach is a relatively conservative community, and some people may be confused, even dismayed, by its style, she said.

"Sure, it may alienate some people, but you can't satisfy everyone," she said. "A lot of people only want to see statues of Gen. Grant on horseback. This piece is not necessarily traditional, but it is good art."

Beside, the commission has incorporated more traditional art in its program blueprint. Plans call for both realistic and free-form sculptures to be placed in parks; stylish arches may be built over the entrance and exits to the city on Coast Highway, and decorative street signs may be installed.

At this point, Sampson said, these are just ideas. The commission was able to move ahead with the "Metalphor" installation, she added, because it was donated. But future projects will require city funding, which is always difficult to obtain.

The commission may eventually depend on the kindness of strangers; specifically, tourists, traveling businessmen and other visitors. The City Council is considering raising the hotel and motel bed tax from 8% to 9%. If the proposal is approved during a scheduled June 9 council hearing, the commission will ask for one-quarter of the additional 1%, which would provide the public arts program with $80,000 to $90,000 a year, Sampson said.

Newport Beach City Manager Robert L. Wynn agrees that the program's funding future revolves around the bed tax. He said the city "enthusiastically" supports the public arts concept but must consider other needs such as maintaining and improving existing services.

"Even if we approve the tax, we'd have to prioritize how we'd spend it," Wynn said.

If funding is secured, Newport Beach can then begin to catch up with Irvine, Brea and other Orange County cities that are busy with their own public art initiatives, Sampson said. "There's really an explosion of interest in this thing, and we want to be a part of it."

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