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'Sixbeaststwomonkeys' and more

November 15, 2009|Sara Catania | Sara Catania is a contributing editor to Opinion.

Artist Peter Shelton didn't have anything terribly controversial in mind when he created "sixbeaststwomonkeys" -- that's "six beasts, two monkeys" -- a collection of bronze sculptures, variously rotund and angular, alongside the new police headquarters downtown.

But the caulk hadn't even dried when the forms, which Shelton envisioned as semi-abstract "beasts of burden," came under attack from bloggers, armchair art enthusiasts and, most notably, the outgoing police chief, who dismissed them as "cow splat."

This latest round in L.A.'s ongoing discussion -- and disagreement -- about public art coincides with the 20th anniversary of L.A.'s Public Percent for Art Program. "Sixbeaststwomonkeys" joins a vast collection of public art in Los Angeles, much of it concentrated downtown and funded through a 1% levy on the cost of major construction.

All projects funded through the program are selected by a panel overseen by the city's Department of Cultural Affairs. Before the citywide Public Percent for Art Program, similar initiatives were applied to concentrated development areas, primarily downtown, where some of the public artwork dates back to the mid-1970s.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, November 18, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 27 Editorial pages Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Public art: An Op-Ed article Sunday about public art in Los Angeles suggested that the website was written by Michael Several. Although the entries consulted by The Times were written by Several, the website itself is compiled by Ruth Wallach.

In past years, the program (as well as similar initiatives elsewhere) has drawn its share of criticism, both for underwriting blatantly promotional projects and kitsch -- including a Home Depot sign and room dividers at a Mexican restaurant -- and for haphazardly depositing sculptures into public spaces with little regard for context, a practice known within design circles as "plop art" or "turds in the plaza."

Prompted by the "sixbeaststwomonkeys" debate, we visited some of the other downtown works funded through the city's Public Percent for Art Program and asked passersby for their impressions. Descriptions of the artwork are informed by the website, written by Michael Several.

Source Figure or "Person with Crabs"

Robert Graham, 1992, Hope Street near 4th Street on top of Bunker Hill Steps

The statue of an African American is among the few sculptures of women of color in Los Angeles. It features a scattering of crabs at its base and represents the source of water for the fountain that cascades down the Bunker Hill Steps.

"I see this sculpture all the time. Sometimes I stop and look at it. Obviously she's a symbol of femininity. Maybe it's because her eyes are closed and because of the form of her hands, it makes me think of meditation. I love it. It's beautiful."

Kristy Steffens, fundraiser for Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

"It's just another broad standing on a phallus -- and this one's got crabs."

John, declined to give his last name or occupation



Marc Di Suvero, 1981

444 S. Flower (5th and Flower)

Di Suvero intended to hang an I-beam from a chain atop the 25-ton sculpture, but he ran out of money.

"The structure itself is fine, but I don't like the colors. I'm really into color, and you have to be really careful with the colors you choose -- especially outside because so many people are going to be exposed to it. For me, orange is a color you don't want to use. You want a complementary color, and orange is not a complementary color. I would have gone with tan and brown. Neutral colors are what L.A. is known for."

Marc Neiman, interior designer



Robin Brailsford, 2006, 12th and Crocker

The 16-foot lips sit atop a bank building in the fashion district and are meant to suggest Man Ray's iconic imagery.

"Ohhh, it's art! I thought it was a cable dish. It doesn't look like art. If they're using public money, they should make it more artistic. I didn't even know it was lips until you told me."

Sang Eum, Internet advertising


Four Arches

Alexander Calder, 1974

333 S. Hope

Calder was commissioned to create the work for the first office tower on Bunker Hill.

"Isn't it just beams and stuff? It kind of looks like a spider. Using tax dollars for this is a waste of money."

John Torres, construction worker

"It's very abstract, and I don't really understand it, but I do like it. It adds a lot of color to the space. It would feel empty without it."

Debbie Lee,

associate for an accounting firm



Alexander Liberman, 1988, 400 Hope Street (4th and Hope)

Liberman was chosen by committee from a field of more than 100 candidates, including Willem de Kooning and Ellsworth Kelly, to create an artwork to respond to Calder's "Four Arches" across the street.

"When you've been sitting at work staring at a computer screen, you can come outside and sit nearby and it refreshes your brain. It gives you a mental break, which is good."

Moto Fujii, web designer


Orange Grove

Barbara McCarren,

1994, Pershing Square

The sculptures, part of a larger installation called "Heyday," refer to a grove that grew near the site in the mid-1800s.

"When I look at them, I think of those Styrofoam balls you see at the flower shop. Then you touch them and they're concrete -- not light at all. They're an excellent design for Los Angeles, where things look like one thing and are really something else."

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