Monday, February 21, 2011


Where Fore art thou?

By Matt Dodge

Feb 09, 2011 12:00 am

People have called it an eyesore, an embarrassment, and even described it as dangerous.

Now they’ll have to say goodbye as a controversial landscape sculpture is set to be removed from the city’s public art collection.

The city council unanimously voted down a resolution Monday night that would have encouraged the Public Art Committee to consider relocating the “Tracing the Fore” sculpture from its current Boothby Square location to another site in Portland.

“I don’t see deaccessioning as a repudiation of public art, I see it as a wide acknowledgement of failure of this piece to succeed in fitting in with it’s location,” said councilor John Anton.

The city council voted 7-3 in November to remove Shauna Gillies-Smith’s piece. But the search for a new location began in earnest amongst the art committee when city councilor Dave Marshall suggested the committee draft a resolution to gauge council support for relocation.

Monday night, the council met the relocation proposal with a resounding no, unanimously voting not to support the resolution with councilors citing the $30,000 to $50,000 price tag of such a move as a major deterrent.

The art committee will not discuss options for deaccessioning the piece, which include selling the sculpture to a private collector, returning it to the artist or selling it off for scrap. However, the committee will vote on a course of action and make a recommendation to the city council, which may approve or deny that plan for the landscape sculpture.

“If the artist came to us and said ‘we want to get that back’, that's something that the community and the council could consider. Or we could sell it for scrap and make some money off it that way,” said Marshall.

But don’t expect the city to break even in selling the piece. The sculpture initially cost the city $135,000 in materials, labor and artist fees and will cost around $8,000 to remove, including landscaping for the square.

“It’s likely the cost of removal will exceed what we’ll get from selling it or scrapping it,” Marshall said.

As a member of the Public Art Committee and an artist himself, Marshall sponsored the resolution, but was glad to see the plans for relocation nipped in the bud.

“I have a lot of respect for artists, but as as artist I can say not every piece I have done has been my best and we need to just accept that sometimes the execution of an idea is not necessarily in sync with people’s concepts,” he said.

The piece came under scrutiny last summer from some Boothby Square business owners who said that the piece never lived up to the artists concept, with grass failing to grow an appropriate height to simulate waves on the Fore River as intended.

But Anton said the city must also take it’s share of the blame for the sculpture not living up to its concept due to a lack of maintenance. “We need to acknowledge the city’s role in this piece’s failure, but I think the important thing to remember is that we tried.

“It was a noble attempt, now let’s cut our losses and see what new, great pieces can emerge from the public art committee,” Anton said.

Matthew Cardente led the charge to oust the sculpture, requesting the piece be removed soon after moving his commercial real estate offices to the square last April.

“From start to finish I think it was a mistake, but I think it’s good people can suck it up and I commend the council for not even voting to relocate it,” he said.

Cardente, who had pledged to help fund the sculptures removal last summer, said he will honor that commitment knowing that the money won’t be spent relocating the piece. “I am willing to donate $1,000 personally to start raising the funds to do something,” he said.

The controversy surrounding “Tracing the Fore” will hopefully change the way in which the city goes about installing public art, said Cardente.

“I think it will set better standards or guidelines, getting more input from people on these projects, not only what they look like, but what their impact will be on the neighborhood,” he said.

Cardente said he would like to see the sculpture removed in time for a revamped Boothby Square come summer. “My hope is that it’s removed in the Spring and that whatever they decree to do, flowerbed or whatever, will be done in time for tourist season,” he said.

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