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A Public Sculpture Takes Glendale Into Its Darling Embrace

May 09, 1991|DOUG SMITH

Glendale started a sculpture collection this week.

At a ceremony replete with City Council members, commissioners and department heads, the city unveiled its first acquisition of fine art, a 6 1/2-foot-tall bronze titled "Me Too."

Actually, the statue was erected last week at its home on the lawn of the Central Library.

So, everyone probably already knows that it depicts a daddy and a mommy wrapped in an ethereal embrace--a hug in today's terminology--with a tot tugging at their knees to get into the circle of affection.

Although the subject would seem a natural for humor, sculptor Natalie Krol carefully avoided any line that would stimulate a reaction stronger than, "Oh how nice!"

After all, her mission, as Mayor Ginger Bremberg explained it at Tuesday's ceremony, was to provide a piece of public art that would unequivocally say, "Glendale!"

At that, she succeeded.

The city paid $70,000 for this paean to the nuclear family. It will be the first of many public sculptures popping up here and there around town. The city has decided to put aside $100,000 a year for art in public places.

It isn't clear how future subjects will be chosen. The story behind "Me Too" is that former Councilman Jerold Milner saw the original and passed around a photo. Everyone who saw it declared it so Glendale that the city had to have one. Krol obligingly cast a duplicate.

"Me Too" is about what you'd expect from a jury of council members whose professional calling dictates the constant idealization of their town. It's appealing enough. It's a lot more shapely than a Beeline bus. It isn't likely to be hated or reviled by future generations.

But you have to wonder how faithful it is to reality.

Looking at the warmth of that family circle, you just know the little girl--or is it a boy?--is going to grow up perfect. No heavy metal, teen pregnancy or ethnic confusion in her future!

Nothing wrong with that. It just isn't an image that drums up any strong words. The adjective that fits best would be darling.

Choosing public art is no picnic. But, for the next statue, the council should try to find a subject that will at least make people talk.

The Los Angeles music center accomplished that--granted, at five times the cost--by commissioning the 30-foot-tall allegorical bronze globe, "Peace on Earth," by Jacques Lipchitz. It was unveiled in 1969 and it's still being called hideous today.

In the realm of public sculpture, that's preferable to darling.

Public sculpture through the ages has served many purposes, most of them admittedly tinged with propaganda and self-adulation. That's what makes it interesting.

The statues you remember show pride, lust, conquest, conceit, envy of the gods, triumph over chaos.

"Winged Victory," in the Louvre, is the epitome of the statue that once seen, can never be forgotten, even without its head and arms.

Military scenes such as " La Marseillaise ," whose semi-dressed citizens thrust upward in triumphal unity, leave indelible images, even for the foreigners who don't know what battles they commemorate.

Glendale has not been entirely untouched by war. A suitable subject might be Lt. Col. John C. Fremont meeting Mexican Gen. Andres Pico in Verdugo Canyon.

It could stand larger than life at the entrance of the Polygon development to dress up that lamentable piece of sculpture by bulldozer.

But let's concede that war, mythology and naked bodies are all off-limits by today's tastes. Subjects from contemporary life could engage the public as well as immortalize moments of civic history.

Why not a statue of architect Alfred F. Priest recoiling at the demolition of his Public Service Building? Or, if the Historical Society succeeds in saving the building, Priest could stand admiring his work, so the rest of us would know which end to look at.

Conceit isn't a bad angle for municipal statuary. Public officials always make good subjects.

Take Stephen M. White, the U.S. senator who secured funds for Los Angeles Harbor. He is remembered today because people never stopped asking who that frumpy bronze man was, pointing to nowhere from the County Courthouse downtown. There was even a flap when he was carted off to San Pedro.

Glendale's counterpart would be Wilmot Parcher, the city's political founder and first mayor--not to mention father of Carroll Parcher, the town's longtime chronicler and leading politician of the 1980s. The elder Parcher, or both father and son, could be pointing up Brand Boulevard, surveying the fruits of their vision. New residents would ask about them and thus the story of Glendale would be preserved in popular imagination.

My preference, though, would be a heroic scene echoing Rodin's "The Burghers of Calais," which can be seen in neighboring Pasadena at the Norton Simon Museum. It would show Bremberg, Givens, Jutras, Raggio and Zarian on a stroll through Parcher Plaza with an allegorical motif: "Burghers Contemplating Mass Rail Transit."

Next could come a truly allegorical piece, portraying the Armenian leader of the 1st Century BC: "Dikran II Thanking Glendale for Harboring His People."

People would talk.

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