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Arts and Culture

‘Chain Reaction’ Is a Threat, but Not to the Public Interest

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Posted on Sep 19, 2013
Mr. Fish

The first structural engineer hired by Santa Monica officials to assess the safety of former L.A. Times cartoonist Paul Conrad’s anti-nuclear war sculpture declared that the work “is not an imminent hazard nor should it be considered dangerous.” But officials still want to tear it down.

Conrad’s 5½ ton construction of stainless steel, fiberglass and concrete, situated adjacent to Santa Monica’s Civic Center and across from the military focused think tank Rand Corporation depicts a giant nuclear cloud composed of massive links of forged copper tubing. For more than 20 years it has been an icon of the peace movement, a grim reminder of the 1945 U.S. bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, attacks that Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer called acts of terrorism. During the sculpture’s lifetime, city authorities have failed to fund minor but necessary maintenance work.

Why do officials want to tear it down? Their intent to do so regardless of expert opinion is clear. They say the sculpture is a “threat to public safety”; that its security “cannot be guaranteed”; that it exhibits “serious or dangerous faults in design or workmanship”; and that it “is in such a deteriorated state that restoration would prove unfeasible, impractical or would render the work essentially false.”

The officials’ views toward the work are also clear in the prohibitive $400,000 price tag that they—not structural experts—attached to proposed repairs. Adjusted for inflation, that sum is roughly equivalent to the amount it took to build the sculpture in 1991. Those who want to save “Chain Reaction” have until mid-February to raise the money. Their odds do not seem good. So far they’ve collected about $20,000 in small donations.

Another, more recent technical report cited fairly minor problems, but included that the sculptures “copper tubes are in good condition” and “should not be a safety issue.” The concrete strength “is adequate for the loads.” Any internal rusting of the steel “is not significant” and is “easily repaired.” The sculpture was “constructed in a satisfactory manner” in 1991 and “remains compliant with current standards” today.

L.A. Times art critic Christopher Knight, who in an article Thursday supplied the facts, figures and quotations above in an enlightening criticism of the city’s public arguments against the sculpture, nonetheless fell short of casting light on the authorities’ probable motives regarding the work. But Truthdig contributor Bill Boyarsky offered an explanation. “The piece is near an area, not far from the beach, that is a target for upscale development,” he wrote on this site in July. “I can see a prospective developer, thinking about putting up expensive condos, bistro bars and shops, looking at ‘Chain Reaction’ and asking the city ‘how the hell will that thing fit in with my plans?’ ”

Appearing on Truthdig Radio that same month, editorial cartoonist Mr. Fish hinted at another reason.

“I don’t think it’s supposed to be beautiful,” he said. “I think it’s supposed to be a statement of fact, a beacon that emphasizes the vulnerability of the human species. … I think what is really important is the fact that … we need to have a place where artists are able to remind us of our own humanity, and that’s what this is. The way art is funded now, it’s more and more looking for corporate sponsorship to exist in the community. What I find most offensive about the situation, particularly with the statue being across the street from the Rand Corporation, is—I think the Rand Corporation should be justifying itself and struggling to declare its relevance to society. … It demonstrates how we’ve lost our way as a species.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.


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