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Arts Projects Remain in Limbo

After much discussion and input by 15 speakers, Laguna Beach’s Arts Commission on Monday could not determine the fate of “Cathexis,” a weather-eroded sculpture donated by the late Steven Harmon that had been removed from Riddle Field as a potential safety hazard.

A year ago, the commission voted to de-accession the piece from the city’s collection, either by sale or gift, but had yet to take action. De-accession would require City Council approval and consultation with the city attorney over who should assume ownership of the sculpture. No action has yet been taken, and commissioners tabled a decision regarding de-accession or restoration for two weeks for further study.

In addition, the commission, missing members Ken Auster and Mary Ferguson, came to no decision about awarding a new bench design for Heisler Park, at Cliff Drive and Jasmine Street. Finalists included the team of Gavin Heath and Larry Gill, Michael Graham, Malcolm Jones and Patrick Vogel.

The commission also left undecided whether to re-open the competition or ask current finalists to resubmit new designs. “I felt that all the submissions were strong but perhaps they did not deem them appropriate enough for the area,” said Heath. He added that even hanging in limbo sometimes goes with the territory of making art for the public. “It’s a lot of work but sometimes it’s still back to the drawing board.”

The commission had considered making “Cathexis” a gift to Harmon’s mother Alice, but the work has languished in part because of the conundrum of complying with public art rules that require restoration by a qualified person, such as the original artist.

The sculpture has been stored in the Laguna Canyon studio of artist John Alabaster, who was asked with explaining the restoration process to the commission, according to the artist’s mother, Alice Harmon. Since the empty slab and the dedication plaque are still in place at Riddle Field, Harmon is hopeful that the sculpture can be repaired and restored with stainless steel and returned to its place. “It was agreed by several of the commission members that the piece is one that should be preserved,” she wrote via e-mail.

Art consultant Jeanne Denholm in Corona del Mar suggested that even extensive restoration would not impinge on the originality of a one-of-a-kind work, but become part of a work’s history.

The commission also approved the installation of lighting to better illuminate art displays at City Hall.

And though the commission had selected jurors for this year’s “Art That is Small” competition, the selection was not finalized pending notification of the candidates.

Heath and Gill did manage to win one bench contest this week. Caltrans rejected their glass and concrete proposal to replace a bus bench at Mountain Street and Coast Highway as it would encroach on the eight-foot curb setback limit and hinder handicapped access. Instead, it will find a home outside the Ocean Avenue Brewery.

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