Our Council Cancels Culture

While travelling in the U.K., walking the rugged coastal landscapes of the Shetland Islands and enjoying the cultural riches of London, our joy was unfortunately disturbed. Watching the recent Del Mar City Council meeting on public art for our Civic Center,  my wife and I gasped in disbelief as councilmember and lapsed ballerina Terry Gaasterland politically pirouetted with her two Council cohorts, Tracy Martinez and Dan Quirk, into the spiraling demise of the City’s appointed Arts Advisory Committee process for public feedback on the gift of an iconic sculptural installation funded fully through private donations. Two of the three short-listed sculptures selected by the Committee are the work of the widely influential and critically acclaimed artist and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi, whose abstract approaches from furniture design to public art installations and functional landscaping are in top museums and prominent public spaces around the world (by chance we saw one in London).  If you are a true fan of classic mid-century furniture you likely know of the iconic Noguchi coffee table.


One need not be a connoisseur or an art critic to recognize the small mindedness underlying this cancellation by the council’s thruple majority. Instead of proceeding with the public workshop and evaluation of the proposed art by the Advisory Committee, they grasped at straw men to cover their inexplicable action. One incredulous argument against the artwork itself was its potential to “block views.”   Using such an anodyne Del Mar bugaboo to rouse antagonism simply shows a gross lack of understanding of public art. I suppose one could claim that the Statue of Liberty blocks views of the Manhattan Skyline as well.    Other specious attacks on the proposed public process exemplified the misguided quirk of looking for data in all the wrong places. It was criticized for being “non-scientific” by Gasaterland  and Quirk, citing lack of demographic analysis (in Del Mar?) and the “statistical insignificance” of the preference poll.  To top it off, the current mayor of the people, Tracey Martinez, pleaded that the action of choosing a piece of public art for the “people’s place” is too divisive a task.   Apparently, she is unaware that the people’s Civic Center underwent a similar process of informational workshops and preference polling prior to its own design and development that was accompanied by the typical division and heated debates – as is the Del Mar Way.


Public Art strives to engage the public, promote reflection, discussion, and even induce interactivity and playfulness.  The Arts Advisory Committee’s favored choice, Noguchi’s Octetra certainly fulfills these criteria well with an intriguingly simple but profound abstract geometric sculpture that embodies both nature and play.  The recent action by the City Council has resulted in a lost opportunity for Del Mar to affirm and enhance its place as a center of intellectual and cultural leadership.  Rather, thanks to Councilmembers Gaasterland, Martinez and Quirk, it may now be viewed as a bastion of Canceled Culture, with the sensibilities of the lowest common denominator.   Perhaps an alternative piece of public art should be placed at our Civic Center in homage to Rodin’s “Burghers of Calais,” which had received strong public opposition when first displayed.  By flipping Del Mar’s Burghers we could install a life-size bronze sculpture of the three Cancelling Councilmembers serving HappyMeals to a passing public. 


Art Olson

Avenida Primavera