The Arts Commission is working quickly to award the commission for the city’s latest and unquestionably most poignant work of public art in order to speed its completion by the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
From 10 entrants who answered the call to compete for the unique opportunity of designing a memorial to the victims, the commission this past Monday whittled the number down to four. The monument is slated to be installed in Heisler Park, near the existing Veterans Memorial at Monument Point.
The monument’s centerpiece is two massive steel girders from New York’s World Trade Center, which collapsed after jetliners flew into the high rises on Sept. 11, 2001. Remnants from the twin towers arrived here recently.
Laguna Beach artists Jorg Dubin, Larry Gill, Louis Longi and Marsh Scott, all veterans of local public art commissions, individually are eager to embrace the task of working with the two beams weighing 612 lbs and measuring 72x36x12 inches each. Their competitive zeal, though, is tempered by the gravity of memorializing nearly 3000 victims. The artists inspected the girders in the city’s corporate yard and toured the intended site, currently under other construction, this week. Also on hand was Fire Chief Kris Head and Capt. Andrew Hill, who initiated obtaining the girders that have become monuments in many locations around the country.
On June 27 the commission will select their recommended winner, which will require City Council approval, slated for July 12.
Local resident and arts patron Mark Porterfield will underwrite the allotted $19,000 budget for the art work along with the shipping costs for the girders.
“We have to select someone with a solid history in public art, someone who has done projects of this scale before, that could work with pieces of this magnitude and who will meet deadlines,” said commissioner Ken Auster. “The deadline window is tight, so the artist’s vision has to be right on; there is no room for corrections or revisions.”
The commission also agreed that whimsy of any sort was verboten, that the piece would have to embody the theme of “remembrance, respect and reflection.”
They selected the four on the strength of their overall style and previous work, especially in the realm of public art.
At Monday’s hearing, glass artist Gavin Heath congratulated the finalists, but said the selection process should have included an opportunity for artists less experienced in public art to prove their mettle.
Commissioner Lisa Mansour disagreed, saying this project was not suited as a proving ground. Other city-sponsored commissions offer opportunities for artists to get a foot in the door, she said.
“The effect of seeing the World Trade Center before and after affected me profoundly,” said Scott, a frequent visitor to New York who made a point of viewing the site a year after the catastrophe. “You had the feeling that you walked on the dust of everyone who died there.”
Scott does not yet have a set design worked out, except for planning to use steel and concrete. She envisions a simple design that makes an immediate connection to the towers. “I do not want to do anything that detracts from the beams and calls attention to my art work,” she said. “I was deeply moved by the tragedy but I do not want to steer people’s emotions.”
Longi would most likely incorporate the human form into the design. “My initial vision centers on one piece standing up while a figure pushes the other upward, as a monument not only to the victims but to human strength, skill and will to survive,” he said. “This is a huge opportunity to create something that represents so much.” He added that emotions evoked by the sight of the beams will ultimately guide the outcome of his design.
Gill, who works mostly in stainless steel and brass, feels he has the technical know-how to pull off something that may well define the city’s public art program for generations. “Besides wanting to create a piece that inspires contemplation, I really can’t describe content yet,” he said.
Dubin, well known as a painter, also has a long resumé as a sculptor and winner of public art awards. He was attracted to the idea of working with the rough-hewn length of steel. “The project suits my aesthetic and I could envision making a symbolic piece that allows people to derive their own interpretations,” he said.
While he has made preliminary sketches, he has no set design except that it should be quiet in nature, nothing overstated, he said.