The 'Chain Reaction' sculpture in the Civic Center. (File photo)
The ‘Chain Reaction’ sculpture in the Civic Center. (File photo)

KEN EDWARDS CENTER — The Arts Commission will once again wrestle Monday night with the fate of “Chain Reaction,” a towering sculpture at the Civic Center that recently lost its place in Santa Monica’s municipal art collection.
City officials are requesting that commissioners deny requests made by supporters of the sculpture to use scarce public arts funds to fix the 26-foot-tall piece, which building officials say could be a danger to the public, despite reports that it simply needs maintenance.
“Chain Reaction” is the only monumental sculpture designed by Paul Conrad, a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist with the Los Angeles Times.
The commission voted in February to remove the sculpture from Santa Monica’s public art collection if supporters of the piece could not muster the money necessary to fix what building officials believed to be severe structural issues.
“We need to grapple with what our options are,” said Jessica Cusick, cultural affairs manager with City Hall.
Initially, officials reported that the repairs could cost between $220,000 and $420,000, and that the exact figure would only be available after extensive — and expensive — tests were complete.
A more recent estimate by the man who originally built the piece has put the amount anywhere between $270,000 to repair the work to a maximum of $475,000 to rebuild it entirely.
According to a staff report, only $8,590 has made it into the fund to rebuild “Chain Reaction.”
Supporters cry foul, however, and say that City Hall has stood between them and fundraising success.
The required tests consumed most of the time that the City Council gave anti-nuclear activists and others to fund raise for the sculpture, said Dave Conrad, the artist’s son.
“The fact remains that of the six months we were given, they took five months of it just to finish their studies,” Conrad said.
They also believe that the cost of repairs is considerably less than that put forward by City Hall, possibly as little as half, and they received no word from City Hall that the piece would be taken off of the public art roll.
“I don’t know when or how that happened, or who made that decision,” Conrad said.
The team is seeking grants from arts institutions with the help of Abby Arnold, who is working with the Chez Jay restaurant, now a city landmark.
Further complicating the fate of the statute is a move by the Landmarks Commission in July to designate the piece as a local landmark.
That puts an additional layer of public process between City Hall and any attempt to remove the sculpture, but it also makes it the first landmarked piece of art in Santa Monica history.
Officials aren’t quite sure what that means yet, because although it is no longer a piece of public artwork, the landmark status requires that City Hall maintain and repair the sculpture.
Conrad, however, is quite definite on what he believes City Hall should do.
“The community and the Conrad family has offered their help and their money to restore the ‘Chain Reaction’ sculpture, a Santa Monica landmark. For the city to ignore that effort and deaccession that great piece of art is reprehensible,” Conrad said.
The City Council will consider the matter early in 2013.

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