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Tenants' Complaints Prompt Koll Co. to Banish Artwork

June 23, 1989|CATHY CURTIS | Times Staff Writer

Officials at a Newport Beach bank building removed most of an ecologically themed art installation this week because it was "visually unappealing" and offended many of the building's tenants, a spokeswoman said.

Remarks by irate tenants at the Wells Fargo Bank Building in Koll Center Newport prompted the Koll Co. to remove from public view all but one piece of the installation, which included bits of shells, discarded foam cups and other refuse collected at the beach by San Clemente artist Deanna Salo.

Linda Woodward, assistant manager for the building complex, said that "probably 80%" of the 15 tenants in the Wells Fargo building had complained about the piece, "and many have called more than once."

The tenants thought the piece was "inappropriate for our office building," Woodward said. "It tends to be more of a conservative building, with conservative businesses. (The work) might be a bit liberal for our tenants."

The installation--which included five large columns, 12 wreaths made of balloons and ribbons, a collage and another foam-and-shell piece--had been on view since June 7 as part of "California Crossroads," a yearlong series of exhibits in the four Koll Center buildings, sponsored by the Koll Co. and Art Resource Group of Newport Beach.

A statement accompanying the exhibit said that Salo's installation "reminds us that the sea has become a dumping ground from which we elicit both inspiration and sadness. . . . Her installation may be viewed with humor, but her message is one of caution and thoughtfulness."

Salo said Thursday that when she visited the piece earlier this week, she saw that the columns had been moved and that trash had been deposited on them--sunflower seed shells, crumpled-up pieces of paper and pieces of electrical tape.

When Salo returned the next day, she was told that some of the tenants were threatening to withhold their rent unless the installation was removed. She offered to explain her work to the tenants but said that a Koll Co. official told her not to bother.

Woodward said she thinks that the tenants are not protesting the environmentally related aspect of the piece, however, but its appearance.

When the Koll Co. had initially approved the concept of the piece, Woodward said, it was acknowledged that the tenants might have "mixed feelings," but the vehemence of their response came as a surprise.

Miriam Smith, president of Art Resource Group, says she thought Salo's piece "tackled some issues dealing with the environment in a wonderful way . . . but unfortunately it has pushed some buttons with the tenants. . . . Sometimes artwork becomes a vehicle to vent frustrations."

In November, large ceramic sculptures by the Northern California artist Viola Frey also elicited unfavorable comment when they were installed as part of the California Crossroads project.

Smith said she thinks that it now has become necessary to "create a mechanism" to allow the tenants to question and respond to the art and hear the artist's point of view even before a piece is installed in the building. She will be working with Chuck Holden, senior assets manager for the Koll Co., to set up such an interchange.

The exhibit was supposed to be on view through Aug. 31, but Salo now wants all her work to be removed from the lobby. A final decision on the status of her piece has not been made.

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