PICO BLVD — If someone else stepped in with cash and time, would City Hall spare “Chain Reaction?”
That was the question on the minds of a group of activists from Santa Monica and further afield who met Sunday night to ponder ways to keep the Civic Center sculpture by Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Paul Conrad.
City officials have recommended giving the piece away over concerns about its structural integrity and safety.
In two weeks, the City Council will review a recommendation by the Arts Commission to give supporters six months to raise the money necessary to repair and conserve the piece, which city staff estimates will cost between $227,372 and $423,172.
Staff has expressed concern that even if the piece is saved in the short term, it’s made out of materials that could degrade further in time, and any decision to restore it would just lead to more costs in the future.
Conrad’s wife, Kay Conrad, and his son David drove from Northern California to show their support for the sculpture, as did those involved in its creation and who advocated for its controversial arrival to the Civic Center.
They felt that it was important for the sculpture to stay in place as an anti-nuclear symbol at a time when the United States is working to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear technology, and power plants are failing.
“I feel like it’s one of his least controversial works,” Conrad said, referring to his father. “Conservatives and liberals alike would agree that it’s a bad idea to destroy the planet with nuclear war.”
The group is working to find donors to help fund repairs to the work and talented volunteers to help defray the cost.
Its fate has been in question since June 2011 when a building and safety inspector noticed children climbing on the 26-foot tall sculpture, which is meant to look like an atomic mushroom cloud covered in chain links.
Tests revealed that the fiberglass shell and copper chain links were holding, but that the internal steel frame showed corrosion and rust and the anchor bolts attaching the sculpture to its foundation were weak.
It was also unclear just how long the fiberglass could remain viable because it was a relatively new material for use in outdoor sculptures.
That could be an ongoing cost even if others step in to save “Chain Reaction” in the short term, said Malina Moore, cultural affairs supervisor.
“The fiberglass will become an issue,” Moore said. “It’s lasted, but it will become a maintenance issue as well. It’s something to look at down the road if council decides to allocate funds.”
Staff from the Santa Monica Cultural Affairs Division estimated that it would cost as much to fix the piece as it would to conserve every other piece of public art in Santa Monica.
In addition, the tests needed to ensure the structural integrity of the work could be so destructive to the sculpture itself that the repairs would transform the statue from a Paul Conrad original to something too rebuilt to recognize as the artist’s work, staff said.
James Flury, for one, doesn’t buy it.
Flury attended the Sunday meeting called by local peace activist Jerry Rubin to offer his support and services to save “Chain Reaction.”
He offers a special kind of expertise — Flury helped build the statue in the first place.
Flury worked at Peter Carlson Enterprises, the company that Conrad commissioned to fabricate the statue based on a 36-inch model he brought to the shop.
He welded many of the individual links that cover the piece, and helped create the mushroom cloud that tops it.
“It might take two or three weekend days for the outside surface part,” Flury estimated. “We’d have to strip off the chains to inspect the connection.”
Even if volunteers stepped in, the fact that the piece is in Santa Monica’s public art collection means that City Hall has a responsibility to conserve it appropriately.
“It is an artwork. We have a responsibility to maintain it as an artwork,” Moore said. “We would need to work with a conservator to make sure it’s done correctly.”
The City Council is expected to consider the sculpture’s fate on Mar. 20.