Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Sculpture: Condemned

Redirect public art

Last week, while Cincinnati celebrated its selection as an "International Sculpture City," it got hammered for condemning a 15-year-old public sculpture in Hyde Park. The fate of Greek-born sculptor Athena Tacha's 27-wall brick maze can help focus the debate over how we maintain public art.

City inspectors say Tacha's Double Star: Antares has become unstable and unsafe in its playground setting at Erie and Marburg Avenues, and should be demolished. The artist and some local supporters blame the city for "15 years of neglect." She has threatened to sue if it's bulldozed.

A meeting will be held soon with Councilman James Tarbell, arts & culture committee chairman. The city and the neighborhoods need to examine if we are using resources for public sculpture to our best advantage and who should be responsible for maintaining such works.

In 1988, community residents raised $30,000 to erect Tacha's star-shaped structure and set aside $5,000 for maintenance. Recreation director James Garges says even if the city had used the $5,000 to seal the bricks, it would have extended the sculpture's life only a few years. Tacha's work was inspired by the double star discovered by the nearby Mount Lookout observatory. Cost to demolish and rebuild the brick walls is estimated at $110,000.

The issue of neglected maintenance of public artwork has come up before, most notably in deterioration of the 1871 Tyler Davidson Fountain on Fountain Square. After much recrimination, civic leaders put on a private fund-raising campaign that amassed $2 million to restore the fountain in 2000 and set up a $1 million maintenance fund. That ought to be the model for handling public art here, including Tacha's Antares. The Cincinnati Park Board now requires, before accepting new public art, that maintenance be assured.

Cincinnati's "International Sculpture City" honor was awarded because of the number of sculptors who work here - not because of public sculpture here. Most of their works are installed out of town.

Cincinnati the last few years had great fun and tourist interest with the Big Pig Gig, the flower pots and bats, but we need to ask if such artistic ingenuity and resources should be redirected now toward creating more lasting, one-of-a-kind public art.

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