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Ventura County

Bus Station Sculpture a Traffic Stopper

Art: The $2.2-million 'transfer center' is set to open June 12. Reaction to the unorthodox design is muted.

April 05, 2002|STEVE CHAWKINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's nothing that Ralph Kramden would have recognized as a bus station.

On the other hand, nobody has ever seen a bus station quite like the structure going up on the north side of Pacific View Mall.

After four years of planning and occasionally vigorous opposition, Ventura will open a 36-foot-tall, multicolored sculpture featuring timetables, benches, restrooms, loading bays and drinking fountains. Passengers waiting at the site off Telegraph Avenue will cluster inside what bureaucrats call a "bus transfer center." Artist Dennis Oppenheim calls it a work of "whirling metamorphoses" and has titled it "Bus Home."

Construction started last week on the piece that depicts a bus swooping over an arch and transforming itself into a suburban house. The grand opening of the $2.2-million project is June 12.

"This is one answer to the question of how we can approach Ventura's identity," said Kerry Adams Hapner, an official with the city's public art program. "It enhances the quality of life for people here. It will attract attention to the mall and help to bring in new businesses. Overall, it raises the bar in terms of urban design."

Not everyone is cheered by the sight of the steel skeleton rising in the mall's parking lot.

"I drove by it today and wanted to get out my dynamite," said Christy Weir of Ventura. "It's one more sign of the city's inferiority complex; we have to do something completely weird and off the wall in order to be different."

About half the project is being financed by federal transit funds. The city's share is about $848,000, much of which can be used only for transportation projects. More than $163,000 comes from public art fees levied on builders of private and public projects.

Before its approval by Ventura's City Council in 2000, the design was criticized by residents who said it was ugly. The city also was accused of needlessly recruiting design talent from New York when a local artist could have done the job.

Oppenheim, 63, has exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the world and received commissions for public art in places such as South Korea and Argentina. He was among about 50 artists who applied for the bus job, city officials said.

After he was selected, Oppenheim came to Ventura and spent a few hours sitting on a bench at the current transfer center, a drab arrangement that isn't much more than a cement slab and a few benches.

"Bus stops can be depressing places, especially when the overwhelming majority of the population have cars," he said. "You sit, you wait, you're tired. And whatever makes you depend on a bus is just another reason for you to be a little bit sad."

Oppenheim said he intended his design to be both zany and uplifting.

"It aggrandizes the simple act of waiting for a bus to nearly the level of hallucination," he said. "I've never seen anything quite like it."

Oppenheim has worked in a variety of styles, sometimes incorporating items as unlikely as mechanized marionettes, conveyor belts and batches of cotton candy. His work has occasionally verged into bizarre metaphors, with such images as Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls having sex.

He is working on a commission at the Sacramento airport involving giant metallic birds cantilevering off a parking garage and hovering over a garden. The birds, which have a wing span of 20 feet, will incorporate actual birdhouses.

"It will be open for birds to go inside and do whatever birds do," he said. "It's a little bit radical."

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