Lobdell: Sentiments against statue so 'misunderestimated'

February 10, 2011|By William Lobdell

A record — and raucous — crowd of more than 100 people packed the Newport Beach City Arts Commission meeting Thursday evening to protest the proposed Presidential Ronald Reagan statue that backers want placed in the new Civic Center.

After two hours of debate, the commission recommended that the City Council follow Newport Beach's already-established guidelines for commissioning public art, which include soliciting proposals from interested artists — something the council hadn't done.

Several commissioners stated that the council appeared to not follow due process when approving the statue last month. With no public discussion, the council gave the go-ahead for the commissioning of a $50,000 bronze Reagan statue that would be privately funded and placed in public park.


Councilman Keith Curry — who proposed the statue — wanted the artwork to be put in the new Civic Center.

Since then, Reagan supporters have raised more than $50,000 on the promise that the statue would be done by Utah-based sculptor Stan Watts. The Arts Commission wasn't consulted about the selection of Watts.

City policy states that the Arts Commission should "participate in the selection of artists for Art in Public Places projects" and "plan and oversee the artistic design process."

After hearing from residents at the meeting, Commissioner Gilbert Lasky said he "was beginning to come to the conclusion that this [commissioning of the Reagan statue] wasn't done properly. I know the procedure has not been followed in this case."

He added that the idea should start "afresh" with the City Council.

Commissioner Carole Boller, who is also a well-respected painter, said Newport Beach deserves the work of an artist with much higher standards than Watts, calling his work "pedestrian," "mundane and unexciting." She also said Watts' rendering of the Reagan artwork lacked something as basic of anatomical correctness.

Other art experts who spoke also questioned the quality of Watts' work — and even his professionalism.

It was a rough night for Curry, who attended the meeting and gave an opening statement that was often interrupted by a passionate, hostile and sometimes rude crowd. At one point, as he ticked off what he believed were Reagan's greatest accomplishments, the attendees shouted him down, forcing him to skip to the end of his remarks.

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