CIVIC CENTER — Perhaps playing on public works of art isn’t a good idea.

After spotting children and visitors climbing and “interacting” with the iconic “Chain Reaction” sculpture located in the Civic Center, Building Officer Ron Takiguchi decided that it was time to take a closer look at the wear and tear the structure has experienced since being erected in 1991.

“I was just walking by and noticed people not just looking at it,” Takiguchi said. “Kids were holding onto the chain links and I thought ‘is that really safe?’”

Upon closer review, he observed that not only was the shell of the sculpture, shaped like a mushroom cloud consisting of what appear to be chain links, was slightly damaged due to weathering, but also the fasteners that hold the outer shell onto a fiberglass core were either worn or unfastened.

Once realizing that there was a significant chance that the sculpture is in need of repair, Takiguchi took the rare step to have it surrounded by a temporary fence on Monday to keep visitors at a safe distance while city officials determine the extent of the damage.

“The fasteners were actually detached and in rusted condition,” he said. “We decided it needed attention.”

The next step for the city’s Building and Safety Division is to contract with an art conservator and a structural engineer to assist with the assessment. That is expected to occur during the next few weeks, but no exact timeline has been set.

Assisting in that process is Cultural Affairs Manager Jessica Cusick, who oversees the city’s public art collection.

Cusick said that the conservator and engineer will work with Takiguchi to make a final diagnosis. She said that the best case scenario would have the experts declare it safe and begin removing the temporary fence, but she warned against that rosy of an outlook. For now, it’s in the hands of inspectors.

“We want to make sure everyone is safe and happy and able to enjoy the sculpture,” she said.

The structure itself was first donated to City Hall by a benefactor of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and artist Paul Conrad. The sculpture was the source of considerable debate among city leaders, some of whom telling the Los Angeles Times at the time that it was “ugly,” and not appropriate for the Civic Center’s lawn.

Conrad defended the creation as a gesture of peace, but critics couldn’t see beyond the obvious nuclear weapon connotation. After debate on the City Council, the structure was ultimately accepted and installed in 1991.

While the debate has obviously died down over the years, the need to preserve it as a major piece of public art remains for Cusick’s Cultural Affairs Division, which oversees 150 works of art across the city, but not many has high-profile as “Chain Reaction.”

She said that the effort to preserve the familiar work falls in line with City Hall’s aim of providing art for its residents and visitors alike.

“We’re committed to this,” Cusick said. “Art in the public realm adds a lot to the city.

“It’s about celebrating the uniqueness of Santa Monica.”

daniela@smdp.com

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