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City Ready to Give Up On Anti-Nuke Sculpture

The Arts Commission says there's not enough money to restore cartoonist Paul Conrad's mushroom-cloud work. But commissioners want to give the public and Conrad's family time to come up with the nearly half-million dollars.

It could be up to you, public, to raise the nearly half a million dollars needed to keep the anti-nuclear sculpture at the in the city's art collection.

Salty ocean air and the rain have corroded the 26-foot tall fiberglass mushroom cloud sculpted by Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times cartoonist Paul Conrad, and city officials say there's not enough money in public coffers to restore it.

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Before the City Council authorizes the deaccession, as staffers have requested, the Arts Commission weighed in Wednesday. It voted to recommend the sculpture's removal and added a provision: Family of the late Conrad and the community should get six months to raise the $423,172.

"It’s on the community," said Commissioner Ed Horowitz.

Conrad, who died in 2010, won Pulitzers in 1964, 1971 and 1984 for his "fiercely confrontational" political cartoons. He sculpted "Chain Reaction" during the Cold War as the West and East raced to bolster their weapons chests, escalating fears of a repeat of the 1945 nuclear attacks on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Though not in the medium that Conrad was revered for, the sculpture is viewed by some as a powerful political statement. It is beloved by local peace activists who beseeched the Arts Commission to keep it as a memorial of a "horrendous act."

Now mobilized by the disaster in Fukushima, Japan, they say the timing is right for Santa Monica to "strengthen the anti-nuclear movement once again."

Although he initially told the city that he would cast the sculpture in bronze, Conrad used copper tubing, which he placed over a core of fiberglass and stainless steel. Bronze, staffers said, would have been easier to preserve.

Engineers who recently spent 3½ months examining the sculpture’s stability said they fear strong winds or an earthquake could snap the mushroom cloud off its stem. 

On Wednesday evening, resident Jerry Rubin called on fellow activists to form a "support" circle around Chain Reaction. He arrived at the Arts Commission meeting with a cardboard poster he made when anti-nuclear protests first emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

He said he's now circulating a "Save Our Sculpture" petition that's garnered 100 signatures.

But it likely won't be the city that intervenes.

Jessica Cusick, Santa Monica's cultural affairs manager, said, "It's a struggle to find enough money to pay for restorations" for the more than 40 pieces in the public collection.

There's currently no money earmarked for conservation, and she is skeptical that the council would allocate any now for this cause. The last appropriation was in 2008 for $100,000, Cusick said.

In 2008, the funds were used to repair three works: the 20-year-old "Big Wave" by Tony deLap; the installation by Michael Davis in the Public Safety Facility; and the work by Mauro Staccioli at the intersection of Pico Boulevard and Ocean Avenue.

If ultimately relinquished by the city, it would be offered to Conrad's family and would be destroyed only if the family was unable to find it a home.

Cusick said Conrad's son, David, has expressed interest in participating in fundraising himself.

"He would like to see the piece remain," she said. "He doesn’t see that any price is too high."

Marshall Thompson February 02, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Always has been hideous. Looks like a giant afro. Junk.
Ralph February 02, 2012 at 08:39 PM
I say blow the damned thing up!
J Edward Tipre February 03, 2012 at 09:27 AM
The sculpture by Conrad, who was not only a great political cartoonist but a well-reviewed sculptor, represents danger as much today as ever. Presently, the world's nuclear powers continue to reject the World Court mandate to dismantle nuclear missile warheads. Were that not true, the piece would still stand as an historic piece, a work of art. A mature culture would know how to find the money.
Santa Monica Notary & Live Scan February 08, 2012 at 12:58 AM
NO!!!! This sculpture is a Santa Monica gem created by a national treasure!
Carl Hamilton February 08, 2012 at 05:12 PM
This sculpture needs to remain. As mentioned in the story and in the comments, it makes a statement about our past and current worldly affairs and was created by an awesome man. I really hope it stays.

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