The Arts Commission on Thursday voted against spending taxpayer money to save 'Chain Reaction.'  (File photo.)

There’s a movement to save Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist Paul Conrad’s ‘Chain Reaction.’ (File photo.)

You’re not thinking of signing the petition, or donating money, are you? Save “Chain Reaction,” save “Chain Reaction,” that’s all I hear these days.
Why? Why save that 5-ton hunk o’ junk? It’s just an ugly pile of metal links, not really what you would call art. If it is, put it in a museum. It’s based on a cartoon, you know.
It’s falling apart and it will cost close to half a million to repair it, and people expect the city of Santa Monica to do that? That’s not our responsibility. Don’t we have much more important things to spend money like that on?
Kids have been climbing on it, and that’s dangerous. It’s so dilapidated structurally, it could just fall over. Imagine your family being told you died because an atom bomb mushroom cloud fell on your head.
It’s just so mid-20th century — ban the bomb? Give me a break, that went out with Nixon, and we have other, more dangerous things to worry about in today’s dangerous world. It doesn’t fit in a modern Santa Monica.
Anyone who listens to those anti-nuke nutjobs and feels moved to ante up a donation to help save that “sculpture” should send that money to me instead.
And I will turn it over to the Save Chain Reaction group, because everything I stated above is not true. Or at the very least, very misleading. But that’s what you’ve been hearing, haven’t you?
It’s ugly? I wouldn’t say so. It’s powerful. Haunting. Grim. Ominous even. Art often is not pretty. But when I see it, it has often provoked me into at least a moment’s thoughtfulness, reminded anew of the issues it represents. Links of thought, in a fertile chain of possibilities and outcomes. Isn’t that what art is supposed to do? Provoke a chain reaction of thought? Is that a sign of being archaic, out of place in a modern world? Hardly.
Yes, it is based on a cartoon — by Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Paul Conrad. Uh, make that three Pulitzers. He is inarguably in the top echelon of all time for his art form. How many towns can claim that distinction, of having a sculpture created by a world-famous cartoonist?
Conrad donated the quarter-of-a-million dollar sculpture to us in 1991. By all accounts, the city did little or nothing to maintain it as it stood outdoors for 22 years, spitting distance from the ocean. Some now want to toss it in the Dumpster rather than spend the money to restore it. If nothing else, that’s a bit rude and ungrateful, don’t you think? Did we ask the French to keep the Statue of Liberty polished?
Yes, we have many things begging for our limited city funds, especially our arts funds. But for this public art so perfectly suited to Santa Monica and its history, we should be turning over every rock in an effort to do something to save it. What’s the rush? Why a firm deadline? Why all $450,000 by February or it’s over? (And many think that figure is way too high.) Don’t shift the civic responsibility onto the individual shoulders of the citizens. Let’s work together.
In a complete reversal of their 1991 predecessors, the current Arts Commission voted recently to de-access “Chain Reaction,” for financial reasons. Every penny of the $170,000 or so in their fund won’t cover even half the cost of restoration of this one piece. But they did recommend, should the City Council vote to save it, that half their bankroll be earmarked for that, actually quite generous. But the City Council cut that figure to $50,000.
More than one study and thorough inspection reported structural deterioration, but certainly no imminent collapse. It’s not dangerous. Well, it could be, if you’re an anarchic little monster who’s driven to climb to the 26-foot top while your nanny natters obliviously on the cell phone. But the same could be said of the Saint Monica statue at the end of Wilshire, or even the canons by the pier entrance, and no one’s saying they have to go.
A reflecting pool has been floated as a solution. But that would be expensive. Well, how expensive is a sign that says, “Hey! Don’t climb on the damn sculpture, this means you, kid!” Or how about a little garden, nicely keeping you back?
Is being anti-nuclear passé? Have you read a newspaper lately? Watched “24?” Are you sure Kazakhstan turned over all its nukes? No problem with Pakistan and North Korea having “The Bomb?”
Our local perennial “peacenik,” Jerry Rubin (and I say that with affection and admiration), is, no surprise, cheerleading on this one, to the point of going on a liquid fast for 100 days to draw attention to it. That’s a long time without a cheeseburger, more than three months.
At the finish line he’ll break his fast and celebrate his 70th birthday with a big bash on the pier, with some very interesting guests and performers, all in the name of saving “Chain Reaction.” Tonight, Sept. 28, folks walking toward the huge GLOW festival on the beach are invited to bring flashlights and pause to illuminate the sculpture. Low tech, but surprisingly moving, I’ll bet.
As I wrote this, word came through that both the L.A. and Santa Monica conservancies are now backing this campaign. “Chain Reaction” recently got historic landmark status (which is good, but not enough to save it). Last week the esteemed arts critic for the L.A. Times, Christopher Knight, wrote a very forceful case for preservation. A bit miffed, he was, that this is even necessary. A good read; Google it.
This fight we shouldn’t even be having is gaining a lot of momentum. Check out the petition at Save Chain Reaction (conradprojects.com), where you can sign or donate money or just peruse the supporters list for celebs, or even become informed on the facts. It’s ignorance or being misinformed that are dangerous, not a sculpture with the message that nuclear holocaust might be something to be avoided.

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 27 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com.