‘Sunbathers’ Receive a Reprieve

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Artist Leonard Glasser inspects one of the two “Sunbathers” sculptures prior to a hearing this week over whether they should be restored again. Photo by Jody Tiongco.
Artist Leonard Glasser inspects one of the two “Sunbathers” sculptures prior to a hearing this week over whether they should be restored again. Photo by Jody Tiongco.

Having stayed out in the sun way too long, the two metal figures at Nita Carmen Park were spared the junkyard and, instead, may be reinvented before taking their places again on the grassy knoll at Wilson Street and St. Ann’s Drive.

At the urging of neighbors and lovers of whimsical art, the City Council unanimously rescinded its decision last month to remove the sculptures at the recommendation of the Arts Commission.

Instead, the council Tuesday directed the Arts Commission to reconsider the steel pieces after artist Leonard Glasser from Sherman Oaks said they could be reproduced in a finished stainless steel that will withstand the weather.

Collectively known as the “Sunbathers,” one of the abstract sculptures is a man sitting in a chair looking at the other sculpture, a woman in a bikini lying on her stomach sunbathing. They both are now white-washed and weathered with a thick patina of dust and debris from overhanging trees, potty-ing pets and sticky coastal elements. The price of upkeep and amount of repairs was too great, the commission had said.

But the council’s decision to remove the sculptures generated an extraordinary amount of sometimes-tearful public outcry, said council member Toni Iseman.

Since the sculptures were installed in 1983, they have been repaired three times at a cost of $8,550. Glasser was paid $6,000 for the original works. Additional repairs, the commission reported, would cost $10,050 while removing the pieces would cost $4,000.

Originally, the female figure was naked, Glasser told the council. The Arts Commission said it was “too sexy,” he said, so a bikini was added, “which has become a great collector of dirt and dust.”

The sculptures were originally powder-coated “to look like flesh and lips and eyes and bikini and that was a big part of the charm,” said Arts Commissioner Pat Kollenda. White-washing was a cheap and easy way to restore the pieces, the reports stated.

Now, Kollenda said, “dogs love it” because it’s low and accessible. “I actually thought of asking the sculptor to do a fire hydrant for the place,” she said.

Glasser said he’s aware the knoll is now more of a dog park and has raised the base to 12 inches. “That’s too high for the dogs,” he said. “They don’t do that anymore.”

More than rust, vandalism damaged the pieces, Glasser said. The first time, vandals tried moving the chair with a chain, he said. The second time, vandals used a hammer to remove the male figure’s hand. The third time, he said, “black paint or tar” was poured on the figures. “It’s public art; anybody can get to it,” he said.

Arts Commissioner Donna Ballard stood by the original recommendation to banish the “Sunbathers.”

“It just defied restoration,” she said. “It still stands as the problem it’s become.”

Nearby residents, however, have grown fond of the super-size loungers. “It’s fun. It’s unpretentious. It’s the essence of relaxation, which is what we want to promote more in town,” said landscape architect Bob Borthwick.

“I love that sculpture. I love it, and I will be terribly disappointed if it disappears from my life,” said Lorna Shaw. “You can’t just put something up and just walk away from it. Keep my sculpture for me.”

Artist Karen Feller-Schwager said the pieces inspired a complete body of work for her when she first moved to Laguna. “Just the way you save old trees sometimes, you have to put in the effort, or old pets,” she said. “This is a pet of Laguna Beach.”

Iseman said she will throw a fundraiser to underwrite reinventing the works, which council member Rob Zur Schmiede quickly dubbed “Friends of the Sunbathers.”

“Everybody has to wear a swimsuit or, actually,…never mind,” Iseman quipped. “Everybody here better to show up at my party or send me a check.”

Early estimates to reproduce the piece in stainless steel are estimated to surpass $7,000 with an additional $4,000 to replace the cement base, according to city reports.

 

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