While the words “San Diego” and “art” are hardly synonymous, if you look hard enough, there is a thriving underground art scene in neighborhoods like North Park and Kensington.
But when it comes to public art (read: in some cases, publicly funded art), our city has time and time again put up a fight with a few valid and a few not-so-valid reasons. Some stayed and some got the boot, but all in all, these five pieces of public art ruffled feathers, made a splash and just about any other idiom you can think of to replace the words “pissed people off.”
5. “Magic Carpet Ride” by Matthew Antichevich (2007)
Tim Buss via Flickr
Magic Carpet Ride
People love to hate the “Cardiff Kook.” Artist Matthew Antichevich originally named the statue “Magic Carpet Ride,” but it has since taken on the less than positive moniker. The seemingly innocent bronze statue of a surfer embarking on a wave sits in front of the San Elijo State Beach, as commissioned by the Cardiff Botanical Society for $92,000 in 2007. Critics claimed the statue was too effeminate and the surfer’s dainty body didn’t accurately portray the sport as it is. So they did something about it.
Now you can see the Cardiff Kook adorned with a variety of outfits, accessories and other modifications that poke fun at the statue. People have dressed the statue to resemble Michael Jackson, Oprah, Vincent Van Gogh and others. The statue has also been modified to look like it’s being attacked by a shark and a dinosaur. And then there are the less creative people that just slap a bra and panties on the poor guy and call it a day.
Encinitas City Hall isn’t thrilled about the situation either. The statue has sustained over $2,000 in damages as people often have to climb the statue to leave their mark.
Even though the statue has caused it’s fair share of drama, it is nice — however odd — to see a community coming together to express shared hatred for something in a such a unique way. There are now annual Cardiff Kook 5k and 10k runs that take place, and you know the Cardiff Kook will surely be dressed in his running shorts.
4. “Okeanos” by William Tucker (1987)
William Tucker’s 1987 bronze sculpture “Okeanos” is graphic. The piece was originally commissioned for $200,000 by a group of donors to honor Frank J. Dixon, co-founder and director of Scripps Research Institute who passed away in 2008. Onlookers opposed the statue due to it’s aesthetic shortcomings, but short it is not. The 13-foot piece is phallic while also somehow resembling excrement. To put it simply, some thought it was crap.
The (supposedly) abstract sculpture stood along North Torrey Pines Road from 1988 to 2001 until philanthropist Edythe H. Scripps paid $40,000 to relocate the statue to some less prime real estate.
“I’ve been trying to get rid of that thing for years,” Scripps told the Union-Tribune in 2001. “I’m certainly glad to see it go.”
The artist named the sculpture after Okeanos, the Greek god of rivers and ocean. Tucker himself has gone on record saying the curve of the statue suggests a wave and many art critics praised the work initially. But it’s the locals’ voices that were the loudest and it only took 13 years for their poo-laden cries to be heard.
3. “Unconditional Surrender” by J. Seward Johnson (varied years)
Stephen B. Goodwin/Shutterstock
“Unconditional Surrender” isn’t the name of a bad movie, it’s the name of a bad sculpture — or at least that's opinion of some San Diegans. You’ve likely seen it when passing through the Port of San Diego because it's hard to miss. The 25-foot statue designed by J. Seward Johnson shows the ever-recognizable replica of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photo of an American sailor kissing a nurse on Victory over Japan Day (hence the title “V-J Day in Times Square").
The statue, which has lived in the Embarcadero since 2007, shows exactly that, the scene of Edith Shain surrendering to the kiss of a complete stranger unprompted and forever documented. The statue amuses many tourists who often imitate the pose with a loved one to post a photo on Instagram, but many locals often ignore it all together.
The foam loaner statue has since been replaced be an even more permanent bronze version, as Johnson has been mass producing them in the material of your choice for years. The decision to purchase the bronze statue even led two San Diego Unified Port District Public Art Committee members to resign. Oh, and it only cost $1 million. (The money was raised by private donations.) Isn’t that the cherry? Rather than encapsulating a beautiful moment signifying the end of World War II, this statue simply reminds those that know the real story that the potential to be forcefully kissed by a stranger is just one celebratory day away.
2. “Pleasure Point” by Nancy Rubins (2006)
Smart Destinations via Flickr
There’s a direct line one can draw from San Diego to the beach, from the beach to boats and from boats to artist Nancy Rubins. But does that mean her 2006 public art piece “Pleasure Point,” located on the Western edge of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, is a new nickname for La Jolla? In 1999, San Diego public arts administrators rejected the proposal because they felt the piece wouldn’t fit the aesthetic of the originally proposed downtown location on Harbor Drive. Once all the details were in place (funds and all), the board rejected the proposal in a 4-3 vote due to mild public opposition.
Rubins responded to dissenting board member Steve Cushman with bravado. “Friends said to me, ‘You know, Nancy, San Diego is really a provincial city. It’s immature, and you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting your work accepted.’ They told me it’s full of small-minded people. And, Mr. Cushman, you just proved them right. I’m sorry you’re so petty.”
So Rubins took her proposal to the museum, which accepted the piece with open arms. The piece even went on to receive positive acclaim from the public, to which Cushman responded, “Now people don’t complain about it. Part of the reason they don’t is that it’s on museum grounds. Museums can do what they want. But if it was out in public, they’d be outraged.”
Even if you don’t find La Jolla entirely pleasurable (the smell that the seals emit is far from an aphrodisiac), the art itself is worth a once-over. Rubins’ protruding sculpture made of found materials is an eye-catcher when walking along the shores and can lead you to a lovely afternoon of art-gazing at the museum (for free if you’re military or under 25 years old with valid ID).
1. “Split Pavilion” by Andrea Blum (1992)
Phillip Ritterman courtesy of Andrea Blum
Phillip Ritterman courtesy of Andrea Blum
Andrea Blum’s “Split Pavilion” in Carlsbad was so controversial it no longer exists.
The 1992 piece made headlines like “Art or Eyesore?” in the Los Angeles Times. The notoriously “mellow” residents shocked the public when they opposed the $338,999 piece because the tall steel poles resembled the bars of a prison cell. The Carlsbad Arts Office commissioned Blum to create the 7,500-square-foot creation in 1987 and although the public was informed of all aspects of the project throughout the planning stages, speech against the piece didn’t fully emerge until construction, when neighbors realized the piece would obstruct their ocean view.
The deeper meaning of the piece, much of which had to do with concepts of exclusion and the psychology of space, was lost on those who saw it as an aesthetic nightmare and nothing more. Neighbors called it “a total bummer,” a “90s version of Stonehenge” and “the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.” Blum herself expected some opposition but was shocked by the extent at which the public seemingly hated her creation. “I know Southern California has a history of, shall we say, problems with public art. The inclination is always to dislike,” she told the Los Angeles Times.
Blum’s goal was never to close off the space, rather she wanted to use the fence as a medium to catch light and filter the view of the ocean. The work itself was not created with the intention of inciting controversy but the concepts addressed in the piece (space, accessibility, exclusionism) have all (ironically) manifested within the conversation of ousting Blum’s artwork. And they managed to exclude her and her ideas successfully. In June 1998, Carlsbad residents overwhelmingly supported the removal of the sculpture, which cost the city an additional $123,000. It has since been replaced with grass and a bench.
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12500 South Coast Highway 101, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California 92007
2John Jay Hopkins Drive, San Diego, California 92121
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