Memorial Under Newly Watchful Eyes

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After the latest of three incidents of vandalism to “Semper Memento,” the memorial to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Laguna Beach police recently installed a surveillance camera in its vicinity in Heisler Park.

While none of the previous perpetrators have ever been caught, police now have the area under surveillance in case of another attempt should occur, LBPD Capt. Jason Kravetz said last week. Another 20 similar security cameras installed throughout the community aid police in monitoring vehicle traffic and criminal conduct and some include views of other public art works, but not by specific intent, Kravetz said. Feeds come into the police dispatch center.

Damage is discover to Semper Memento. Photo by Andrea Adelson.
Damage is discover to Semper Memento. Photo by Andrea Adelson.

The new park surveillance camera comes in the wake of missives to city officials beginning on March 6 by the memorial’s creator, Laguna Beach artist Jorg Dubin. His queries involved whether the work should be repaired or replaced and how it can be protected from similar attacks.

“I want this handled and fixed. How do we proceed?” wrote Mayor Steve Dicterow in reply to the initial notice about the vandalism.

Damage this time extends beyond mere scratches or dents. Dubin thinks repairs require the complete removal of the stainless steel sphere and its steel base. The artist initially removed the sphere and base from the site, bringing it to his studio for close analysis, but then replaced it after being reminded that the installation is city property.

City Manager John Pietig suggested that Dubin work with the Arts Commission to establish the nature, scheduling and pricing of repairs to the work. Dubin estimated repair costs at between $1,000 and $1,500 while replacement would cost up to $5,000.

He protested the delay in seeking commission approval to make the repairs. “Just a reminder that my name is on this piece and I take it personally that it was I who discovered the damage and now have to live with the piece damaged for all to see just so the people who are suppose too be overseeing the arts program want to have a chat about it. They didn’t do their job. I have!” Dubin wrote.

“While I understand the Arts Commission’s role in the public art approval process, I do scratch my head and wonder why the artist’s recommended repair needs to go before the Commission,” Council member Robert Zur Schmiede wrote. “Why can’t staff can’t just work with Dubin to effect the repair?”

The city’s cultural arts manager, Sîan Poeschl, said that the Arts Commission wants to make an “informed decision” about the range of repair estimates.

Laguna allots $10,000 a year to maintain and restore its 75-work collection of public art, said Poeschl.

Others share Dubin’s concerns over the stewardship of Laguna’s public art works.

Another local artist, Andrew Meyers, recently restored “The Shopper,” a sculpture installed in 2004 on Ocean Avenue. “She was looking a little beat up with weather and salt air having an effect on her patina, and we decided to give her a face lift,” said Meyers.

After working with Poeschl, he said that the city offered him a stipend of $500 for the restoration. He also expressed concern for the state of nearby public works of art. “Cultural arts programs do what they can, but their art has deteriorated. Someone needs to stay on top of it; there has to be a sufficient budget for an ongoing maintenance program,” he said.

A report by the Getty Conservation Institute on the conservation of public art attributes acts vandalism to works in larger metropolitan areas mostly to “human nature.” “The conservation and maintenance of public art exist where the desire for control and the desire for freedom intersect, mirroring tension throughout our culture between the urge to preserve memory and history and the value we place on freedom of expression and living in the moment….” the report says.

After the third act of vandalism, Dubin, along with some others, now wonder if the damage is an act of political protest. “….Not only is this an affront to the victims of 9-11 but it is as well to all of us. It is clear to me that something has to be done to protect this symbol of this most horrible event in recent American history,” wrote Dubin in his first email to city officials.

Not everyone sees “Semper Memento” as a political statement. “For me a work of art is political when it expresses a certain point of view about something or someone in the public arena. I am not sure how Jorg’s piece would qualify,” wrote Malcolm Warner, executive director of the Laguna Art Museum. “Most memorials like Jorg’s 9-11 piece are also works of art, and it’s depressing to hear that it’s been vandalized again.”

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