Still-life Preserver

The life of an outdoor sculpture is a tough one. Which is why SOS! wants to hold public agencies accountable for the works of art.

In Dade the problem is aggravated by numerous public art programs whose territory often overlaps. Local SOS! volunteers have so far recorded 350 pieces of outdoor sculpture, historic monuments, and high-relief murals; they expect to find another 150 works by the time the project is completed later this fall. Most obvious among the local works are those that were commissioned by Metro-Dade's Art in Public Places. (Whenever the county constructs a new public space, 1.5 percent of the budgeted funds are set aside for the program to purchase art to be displayed inside, outside, or around it.) But there is also an Art in State Buildings program, based in Tallahassee, which commissions art for state buildings with one half of one percent of construction costs. The Government Services Administration performs a similar function for federal buildings. Individual municipalities, including the cities of Miami and Miami Beach, have their own public art programs. Still more outdoor works, such as those outside churches and corporate offices, not to mention museums and private homes, will also be logged for the SOS! database.

Local SOS! coordinator Sean Schwinghammer makes regular rounds to assess the state of the area's public art. Deterioration is a nettlesome problem in Florida, he reports, owing to intense sunlight and the sea air. There are also the human factors, he adds, which include but are not limited to vandalism and neglect.

Schwinghammer points out Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's Dropped Bowl with Scattered Slices and Peels, a four-year-old fountain outside the Metro-Dade Government Center downtown. The piece isn't popular merely because it is an eye-arresting work of art; its sloping sections are coveted by local skateboarders. Although Art in Public Places recently spent about $10,000 to have the sculpture repainted, Schwinghammer says the skateboarders were back scratching it up the next day. The SOS! coordinator has learned that homeless people, too, have found ways to make use of local installations, often taking advantage of the shade or shelter they provide. While this enhances the functionality of the works, Schwinghammer explains, it also tends to hasten wear.

The statues on Cuban Memorial Boulevard off SW Thirteenth Avenue in Little Havana are another popular gathering spot, which can be detrimental to the works. On a recent afternoon, mercenaries involved in a recruiting effort to wage war on Cuba were camped out on cots around a Bay of Pigs monument. Yellow plastic police-line tape had been draped on the already damaged statue in a feeble attempt to prevent people from leaning on it. Nearby the bust of a Bay of Pigs veteran was covered with gifts of candy, as well as a plastic bag that appeared to contain chicken bones. Down the street a votive candle had been placed at the base of a statue of a Virgin with a baby Jesus. The Christ child was missing a hand, and ants nested in cracks along the Virgin's body.

Once the damage has been identified, of course, it still must be repaired. Vivian Donell Rodriguez, director of Art in Public Places, is appealing to corporations to join the county in private/public sponsorships to maintain the program's artworks. She'd also like to see city officials take more responsibility.

"This is a huge cultural heritage and we have to take care of it properly," Rodriguez insists. "We'd like help from some of the municipalities. We feel it's in their best interest to get involved."

Some agencies are cooperative. Florida International University, for instance, exhibits two dozen outdoor pieces on its South Campus, works by artists such as Jonathan Borofsky, Joan Mir cents, Louise Nevelson, and Richard Serra. The entire collection, which is on extended loan from local collector Martin Margolies, was painted and protectively oiled this past summer at the behest of FIU Art Museum director Dahlia Morgan. FIU is footing the bill.

And then there is the City of Miami. Despite several attempts, SOS!'s Schwinghammer hasn't even been able to ascertain where the city is storing the artworks that used to be displayed in Bicentennial Park, much less what condition they're in. The park was once home to a number of large abstract sculptures and several historical busts. They were gradually removed, Schwinghammer says he's been told, because of concerns about damage inflicted by homeless residents or because they obstructed the Grand Prix track. But no one so far can enumerate or locate the pieces. "When you remove art, you have to keep track of where it's been stored. But they remove it and it's gone," Schwinghammer sighs. "Bureaucracy robs us of a lot of sculpture.

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