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'Wave' Artfully Waves Visitors Into City of Santa Monica

June 16, 1989|ZAN DUBIN

A four-story-tall wave has just crested over Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica and frozen in midair.

At least that's the way artist Tony DeLap sees it.

"The Big Wave" is actually a $100,000 abstract steel sculpture erected this week by DeLap. Forming a 42-foot-high arch spanning the boulevard near Franklin Street, it is the centerpiece of a revitalization program sponsored by the City of Santa Monica. It is intended as a gateway to the city.

"We wanted to develop some visual distinction for the part of Wilshire that links L.A. to the sea," said Henry Korn, Santa Monica's arts administrator. "The way L.A. has developed has blurred the boundaries between neighborhoods and communities. We think the 'Wave' creates a welcoming archway to emphasize where L.A. leaves off and Santa Monica begins."

DeLap's design was the winning entry in a 1983 competition sponsored by the city's Arts Commission and its Department of General Services. The project was funded by the city, the National Endowment for the Arts and private donations.

Korn has heard of only one complaint from the community about the new structure. "But I think this person assumed it was a sign" and not a permanent piece of art, he said.

On a recent morning, Gaylord Jenkins, who lives two blocks away from the sculpture, seemed to be warming up to the work, though he was initially resistant.

At first, he and several neighbors "thought it was insane. Superfluous. Who needs it?" Jenkins said. "But they hated the Eiffel Tower. Maybe this will be Santa Monica's Eiffel Tower, a symbol of the city like the pier has always been." The artist envisioned "a great, giant wave coming from Santa Monica and breaking on the Los Angeles side" and came up with a graceful curve with a familiar jog or twist in the middle. Characteristic of his minimalistic, geometric style that often involves illusion, the three-dimensional work looks one-dimensional when viewed only from the front.

"The jog really is the key to the sculpture," DeLap said, "it sets up implied space--meaning it energizes the space around it. If you walk around or beneath the piece, you see its different configurations."

A salute to the Southland's renowned car culture also figured into his plans, said DeLap, an Orange County resident who has shown in Los Angeles galleries for more than two decades.

"I thought it would be nice to do something that integrates with the automobile."

A strip of light encased along the underside of the linear sculpture reminded him of cars streaming on the freeway at night, the artist added.

It took only five nights to erect "The Big Wave," but it was six years in the making. Problems impeding its progress included a delay of funding, time-consuming efforts to ensure that the structure met safety and other requirements, and an "overwhelming" tangle of red tape. The artwork is anchored 14 feet below ground, and DeLap had to work with city departments responsible for subterranean gas and electric lines and sewers.

"The Big Wave" will be officially inaugurated on June 25 at 5 p.m. Planned is a "Traffic Jam," a convoy of cars that will head east on Wilshire and cruise under the sculpture. Bands are to be situated along the route. Anyone may participate. Reservations: (213) 458-8350.

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