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Art Would Add Leap of Fun to Waiting for Bus


Waiting for a bus can be downright dismal.

At least New York artist Dennis Oppenheim thinks so. That sentiment guided his design of Ventura's new bus station, which will appear to dive into the ground as a bus and leap out, transformed, as a house.

The proposed bus transfer facility at the Pacific View Mall is meant to awe bus riders with an arching design that spirals through the air in a virtual corkscrew.

It would be the county's most artistic transportation facility, as well as its most innovative city-funded public art.

Not only does the 28-foot artwork, called "Bus-Home," impress viewers with sharp angles and grand proportions, it has a social message: Perk up; bus riding isn't so bad.

"I wanted the bus shelter to be uplifting, positive, something spirited," Oppenheim said from his New York City home. "Conceptually it was meant as a structure [that] is in a frozen, but animated, state of transformation. I wanted to give these people the feeling that they would get home soon."

The $1.7-million project includes public restrooms, seven bays for unloading, a bus turnaround and a central island where riders can wait. The leaping artwork would shield about 35 people from Ventura's rare inclement weather.

The project still needs a green light from the city's design-review committee, which will meet today, and the public art committee. The design-review committee gave preliminary approval for the concept a few months ago and is due to give the final OK in the spring. "Bus-Home" could be complete in about a year.

Oppenheim, 62, made his reputation doing wacky, whimsical or downright disturbing art, much of it internationally. His past works include earthworks creations, for which he sculpted land to his own design, and body art, in which he intentionally sunburned his chest around the outline of a book.


Tom Mericle, the city's transportation engineer, chose Oppenheim because he knew the artist would design a bold structure that would draw attention to the city and its public transportation.

"There is an art-tourism component to this," Mericle said. "He is a well-known artist worldwide. This may encourage people to use public transit because they will think about this piece."

Riders at the currently dilapidated bus station recently gave mixed reviews to the project. Most focused on the coming amenities--bathrooms, drinking fountains, phones, shelter from the rain, and maybe, a soda machine.

"I think it will be wonderful because I really do have to go to the bathroom a lot," said Helen Howard, 68, looking at a picture of the project. She was taking the bus home after a day of shopping. "It looks safer, especially for women. Anything would be better than this."

A woman sitting in a wheelchair several feet away said she fully supported the plan. "I like the way it looks. . . . It's modern, like a Frank Lloyd Wright-type of thing," said Mary Lusk, who was taking the bus from her home on Victoria Avenue to her bank on Seaward Avenue.

Debra Davidson, Lusk's caretaker, pointed out that "Bus-Home" didn't include shelter for people walking--or pushing a wheelchair--between the indoor-seating area and the bus-pickup point.

In fact, the project may be more focused on aesthetics than function, according to Nick Deitch, an architect with Main Street Architects who sat on the design-review committee when it approved the concept for "Bus-Home."

"It is pretty wild looking," he said. "The intent was to do something fun that people would see and remember. I'm concerned the emphasis was on the art, not on the buses."


Oppenheim agreed that he was more focused on the symbolism of the piece than the feeling of sitting beneath it.

"The physical thing leans radically," Oppenheim said. "There are dynamic, swirling forms that catapult up into the air very far away. It's a large, visually vibrating piece of sculpture."

An aerial view shows the pavement molded and painted to look like a bus, complete with faces peeking from windows, and big bushes for wheels.

Oppenheim's initial idea for the project was to have a series of ever-smaller buses jumping through each other. But the design-review committee rejected it, saying the buses appeared to be crashing into each other.

Oppenheim lived in Northern California until he was 23, and he said "Bus-Home" was based on his memories about the state's ubiquitous suburbs. He called the house a much stronger image for Californians than New Yorkers, many of whom live in apartments.

Donna Granata, a local artist and founder of Focus on the Masters, a program that documents artists, praised Oppenheim's sophistication and experience.

"The fact that one of his pieces will be here adds tremendous credibility to the public art program and to the city," she said. "This is one more thing for people here to see. There is nothing like this in the county."


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