Thursday, January 22, 2009

Civic Center Perspective

Here's a model of Pasadena's Civic Auditorium. It's to scale, but it's not accurate; nobody gets to park on Green Street in front of the auditorium like that.

I want you to click on the photo so you can enlarge it and get a look at the art installations proposed for the plaza. On the left (east) is a piece by Hans Peter Kuhn called Lightfield. On the right (west) is a piece by Dennis Oppenheim called Thinking Caps. Pasadena citizens who care about the look of the city should do a couple of things very soon: read about the pieces here, do some web searching and see other photos and blog posts, and perhaps post opinions here.

And go to the Civic Center if this issue concerns you. This model stands inside the nice new headquarters wing just east of the auditorium. Anybody can walk in there and view it.

Then let the City Council know how you feel about these art works. Do it ASAP, my friends, because this Monday, January 26th, the Council is going to decide whether or not to spend many many millions installing these babies and they need to hear from you toot sweet.

I've received several emails from outraged citizens who want me to blog about these artworks. To tell the truth, I'm less concerned about the works than about their placement, not to mention the seriously bad timing of what looks like frivolous spending against the backdrop of national economic news. (Has anyone in charge here been reading the news? Anyone? Or are the numbers of beggars on the freeway off-ramps increasing because folks just like to beg?)

Some people don't want to have to look at pink and green hats when they step out onto the plaza in front of the Civic Center. I don't blame them. The hats are kind of ridiculous. But frankly I think the hats will hardly be noticeable in comparison with the visual slam that is the Paseo Colorado, with its featureless walls and neon signs blabbing about Tokyo Wako and Pacific Theatres.

Look, art is art. Some people will like it and some won't. That's practically how you define it. But Pasadena's Civic Center itself is a work of art. Or it was, before there was a shopping mall.

Not that we could choose to have it removed. I wasn't here but I'm sure the preservationists tried to prevent the building of it way back when. There was a time when citizens had an unobstructed view from the Civic Auditorium to the Central Library, with a wide avenue leading from one to the other. You can get an idea of it from the first page of this .pdf.

There's no bringing back the past. What do you think of the Civic Center's future?

Update: A link was posted today on Pasadena Insight: It takes you to the blog of the Pasadena Arts Council, where the public can vote “yes” or “no” on the proposed Convention Center public art. Who knew the Arts Council had a blog? Go vote!


Cindy said...

Hmm... they don't quite seem to be in the style or spirit of the Civic center.

Fortunately or unfortunately, most big new buildings or renovations are required to spend a % of their building costs on public art. For many reasons, that usually ends up being some large installation outside. There's a good chance that despite the economy, they *have* to spend money on art to fulfill the obligations of the building agreement. (There was a big hullabaloo surrounding this with the Broad Center at Caltech not that long ago.)

Trish said...

Seriously? Two huge hats? And they think they won't be destroyed or defaced somehow? C'mon!

go check out what the City of San Jose, CA did something like a decade+ ago. $500,000 for what is dubbed "The 1/2 million dollar piece of sh!t!".,_California and go down to the public art section. for what is a bad pic of the piece...I'll see if I can find a better one. It isn't so much the piece itself, but the implementation of it---in a dark bronze which just makes it look like a huge dinosaur dumped on Plaza de Cesar Chavez.

I'm not quite sure what to suggest instead of the "Thinking Caps". But think about it a minute---any event held at the Auditorium will surely "feature" these pieces---is that what the folks of Pasadena want to be known for around the world every time someone shows the Auditorium?

And...I cannot remember a time when one could park anywhere near the front of the Auditorium...and I'm not that young anymore.

I LOVE the link to the pix of the building of City Hall. Those are some seriously historic pictures! Kewl!

Petrea said...

I agree, Cindy. Like decorating City Hall with silly string. Cute, but out of touch.

I believe the spending requirement is also the case here, but the only information I found on the web was on an anonymous blog and I don't quote anonymous sources. That's why I suggest googling. There's also a long official document from 2006 outlining the project.

Here's a picture of the San Jose piece, Trish:
Wow, thanks for bringing that to our attention. I think. Makes us feel giddy about our hats and sticks.

By the way, the 20" measure of the light sticks on the City Hall website copy must be a typo. They're more like 2 meters tall.

Well, if the city's required to spend - I think it's $15 million on art at the Civic Center, what would be dignified enough to place there? What would we recommend?

Anonymous said...


Oh, the hats aren't so bad, but they ought to be in a park.

But what is that stupid thing on the left?

Virginia said...

Oh good grief. Well I won't even show the hideous blue lighted "hose" that our musuem paid big bucks for some shister "artist" to drape in the trees. you are right. In these times, maybe weirdo art needs to go on the back burner.

HearkenCreative said...

I understand that this process is difficult, because most modern artists are not trying to create something that is "in harmony" with their work's surroundings. But I have seen large pieces that speak to their surroundings, and I wish that the folks who worked on this would have looked for artists that appreciated the space to which they were designing.

The works that I believe do this the best (at least locally) are the many different artworks featured inside the new Los Angeles Cathedral. I am especially fond of the tapestries. But each artist worked closely with the Cathedral to realize a singular vision, which, when viewed together, enhances the architecture and "mood" of the locale. I wonder if anyone thought to treat the Convention Center in a similar fashion?

Margaret said...

I can't really tell what's going on with those light things, but -- call me crazy if you must -- I like the hats. I think they are whimsical. I think it will be fun that you can walk between them, making them somewhat participatory. I think they're fun, and what's wrong with fun?

Anonymous said...


Sorry for my unfiltered outburst. I do not understand the work of art at the left.

Laurie said...

I don't know, I'm kind of tired of monuments and bronze so the hats are fun for me. I don't think they quite fit with this building -- they'd be better in front of an education building or a theatre, right? I think the lighted sticks, though, really look like something out of a cheesy 1980s dance club or sushi bar.

In my opinion, a work more like the collection of streetlamps at LACMA is better in keeping with this beautiful old building and the history of Pasadena. But I'm not convinced Pasadena always keeps its style and history in mind when planning things. I still can't get over that godawful new astronomy building at Caltech When you drive down California you see the historic homes all around, all the lovely old campus buildings to the North, and the new ultramodern glass disaster directly across the street. (Apologies to those who like it -- I guess I'm a bit of an architectural fuddy duddy in historic neighborhoods.)

Wayne in Vancouver shows a lot of public art there. That city seems to really understand merging art with community.

Miss Havisham's Tea Party said...

I don't think spending money on art for our shared environment is ever frivolous. It doesn't matter if it is liked or not--it has an effect on our insides whether we are aware of it or not. We use less than 5% of our brains, art feeds the parts that don't speak. It is the artist that created the work that needs to scrutinized. Their energy, whether it be positive, intelligent, constructive and so on.

Good post, Petrea.

Miss Havisham's Tea Party said...

affect/effect take your pick! hah

Colleen said...

I am a philistine, I'll admit, but I do kind of like the hats. But I think art acquisitions and installations should wait and be done at a more economically feasible time. Miss Havisham is right that the arts deserve our investment, but it doesn't have to be immediately and on these particular projects. Personally, I'd love to see the money used for public arts projects at the center: performances, art workshops for kids, that sort of thing.

Daisy said...

The sound/light installation will probably be much more attractive and interesting than the impression currently given by the white plastic poles sticking up outside the Civic Center. I wish we could see an animation of what it would look and sound like when it was working. Those giant tubes outside LAX wouldn't look very attractive without the changing colors, would they? As for the hats, I find them really corny - is that what the artist thinks Pasadena represents? Baseball and rich people?

Bernie K. said...

I think I know that guy on the front steps—the little brown guy on the right. I played with him when I was a kid in New Jersey … but I buried him in the sand along the fence in our yard. How he got to California's a mystery …

West Coast Grrlie Blather said...

I'm all for the set-aside for public art, even in tough economic times.

Nothing will make everyone happy. Art is just that way.

West Coast Grrlie Blather said...

I LOVE the reflections in your photo!

Trish said...

P---that's actually a GOOD picture of the P-O-S San Jose paid $1/2M for.

Don't get me wrong, I'm for art---we need more of it, but...I've seen waaaaaay too much that looks like a 4 year old did it and someone made it into a huge outdoor piece.

I personally like the fountain at Fair Oaks and Glenarm when it is lit up in colors at night---not intended (as far as I know) really to be public art, per se, but it has been for eons.

I'd even go for something with a rose theme, but maybe not such a traditional take on it---ala a Dali version of the ToR rose. Gotta agree that the hats are more of a kids park theme.

The light sticks seem interesting, but I'd need a better grasp of what they will and won't be. I have seen similar pieces in different fashions and they seem to work well. Just up the street from the $1/2M P-O-S is a light/water fountain that kids run thru during the summer. The lights, are great. the water fountain has made people sick, needed expensive repairs and during the lean water rationing years, gets turned off. All considerations here in CA.

I just went back to look at the rendition again...something was bugging me...something is off...I suspect, like Hearken Creative---things don't seem quite in sync. As when one goes to a design house and all the rooms are done by different designers and there is no theme, so the house just looks discombobulated. That's the feeling I get looking at the rendition---two things, pushed far out, that have no real connection to the Center.

my 2c for the day.

docker said...

Two of the cars seem to be taxi cabs from the sixties. The other is obviously just a quick stop to pick up tickets at the box office.

In the picture, the really ugly objects on the plaza are those 4-way light poles - which seem intentionally placed to interfere with the two art works. If the poles are mandated by city code then the art doesn't seem to fit in very well.

I support having contemporary works of art at the Civic - but in this situation the concept of NOW needs to be really long. Not just what is currently in fashion but some sort of summation of fashion for the last 50 years or so is called for. It should be remembered that these pieces will probably be sitting there a hundred years hence. How long before the light installation breaks and needs repair? The art should reflect a much longer scope of art history and Pasadena history.

Christie said...

I love it when there is public art around, but I must admit that I love the way our town handles it. Each one is on a base that can be moved and there are several places in town that the bases can be placed. Every so often, possibly on a set schedule, the pieces are exchanged so that even if you've seen them before, the artwork seems fresh. So far, I've seen at least 3 different pieces of varying mediums and some I find interesting and some I could live without, but all in all, the variety is great. (Besides, knowing you only have to live with a certain piece for a few months is sometimes a relief!) :)

Petrea said...

This was posted today on Pasadena InSight:
It's "a website where the public can vote “yes” or “no” on the proposed Convention Center public art."

Petrea said...

It's actually not a website but the blog of the Pasadena Arts council. Go vote!

GB, I prefer the sticks to the hats. You with the art degree! I guess it doesn't run in the family.

Hey V, a blue hose in the trees. I am there. Not. Maybe? I don't know, it's all subjective.

Everyone here makes an excellent point, all points being different. It's impossible to agree on art, I don't know how the Arts Council does it.

I like what Christie mentioned, but these pieces will be too large to move. From the looks of it they'll also be lit - with solar energy, I hope. Electricity makes no sense financially or environmentally.

Colleen's idea about arts programs reminded me of an article in the January issue of Pasadena Magazine about the Pasadena Symphony, which is struggling to survive. The Symphony's housed in the building in question. Could we throw some of those bucks their way? I wonder what the requirements are for spending it, but it's likely there are some very specific, uh, specifics.

Docker makes a good point about the concept of NOW, don't you think? That fountain Trish mentions at Fair Oaks and Glenarm - isn't that a classic Pasadena Water & Power installation?

How does one create a current classic without being boring? Like Margaret says, what's wrong with fun?

We always need art whether we like it or not. Even if it makes us mad.

Hilda said...

I like outdoor sculptures in general, but not at the expense of more urgent and helpful civic projects. I hope your city council decides wisely.
Please vote for the March theme, if you haven't yet. And please help spread the word too! :)

Ms M said...

Interesting discussion. We have % for art program in Boise, too, and have several pieces of public art in the downtown area. Some are well-liked; others not so much.
I'm glad they install public art. As Miss Havisham says, it does affect our insides, widens our perspective. Just look at the discussion it provoked here :>)

altadenahiker said...

On the other hand, anything that sparks conversation re: art may be worthwhile?

Tash said...

Now this is what blogging is all about! This must be the most number of really in-depth comments I've ever seen. Great job on provoking thoughts & ideas & opinions. I was going to say that I really liked your writing about the scupltures. Here is one artist that I like (he has mobiles by the Vincent Thomas bridge & an installation in Seattle that Kim's guest posted recently) and I bet I'd like something PasAdj would create.
Hats - naw. The other installation seems so unremarkable (did anyone comment on that one?) that it should definitely be nixed.
Mr. Earl is so funny...
BTW - thank you for my wonderful welcome at the restaurant. John is a gem & I DO hope to chat a bit more next time we meet. I got a few Doo-Dah shots on

Miss Havisham's Tea Party said...

I think I have to disqualify myself from commenting. I have a submission proposal that blows all of them out of the water and would cost no more than what has been proposed. Isn't that snakey? Can't help it though, I just know what is supposed to go there. I just know. Bite my axe, Pasadena.

In truth though, do I really know how to produce the very thing I propose?

Cafe Observer said...

I was at the Pasadena Civic Center tonite. Yet, de thought of art never crossed my mind while there.

HearkenCreative said...

I think this discussion has changed my mind: I don't care what goes there. I think it would be best if the people who were commissioning art would stipulate that the commissioned art would interact with its surroundings; but even that request would be interpreted in so many different ways as to make it a worthless stipulation. I guess my beliefs about outdoor, public art are biased against the art in general, because good architecture is in such short supply. But should my bias prevent such things from being installed? Probably not.

From an aesthetic point of view, I worry about scale/proportionality between the two pieces of art and the plaza. But it will be interesting to see this whole thing play out -- especially with the city council.

Thanks, everyone, for your well-thought (and sometimes funny!) comments.

Petrea said...

This has been one of my favorite discussions ever on this blog. The comments are all so smart and even-tempered, I end up agreeing with everyone.

I do hope we remember to consider that the Civic Center is already a work of art. We're all wondering what to put in that plaza space - classic art? modern art? - but there's a third option. Sometimes open space is beautiful in and of itself, and doesn't need filling.

HearkenCreative said...

Petrea, I agree completely. Being the son of an architect, I am steeped in the innate beauty of well-designed structures. Pasadena is privileged to have so many of these, and would do well to continue to honor them.

Pascal Jim said...

As I recently wrote in the S/N, the baseball hat belongs at a sports stadium, and that a TOP HAT belongs at the Civic....TH=C (class)
Still, I propose large movable flower containers with flowers, ROSES.

Petrea said...

I don't see a baseball hat or a top hat. I see a train conductor's hat, a safari hat and a Chinese hat. This is why the piece seems irrelevant to me. The Chinese hat is the only one that seems to have any relevance to Pasadena, unless we're going back to Henry Huntington's train business, in which case a top hat would make more sense anyway.

Again, that's why it's art, right? You see a top hat and a baseball hat.

Anonymous said...

Sandy said...
Regardless of opinions on the art itself, I disagree with commissioning artists so far afield from Pasadena. There are excellent artists here and nearby in greater Los Angeles. I would rather see the competition among them and I have total confidence that the result would be world-class.

Petrea said...

Sandy, that's such a great idea I hope you proposed it to the City Council.

docker said...

The LA Times covered the city council meeting here


The Ghost of Plaza Pasadena said...

I think this post is helpful.

Petrea said...

Ghost: is your link a photo of the shopping mall that the Paseo replaced?

Anonymous said...

The cars are dropping people off. Not parked.