"An alien invader." "Pretty much appalling." "An eyesore." "Cheap-looking, inappropriate, and ugly." A "monstrosity."
It's no secret some Coral Gables residents dislike the million-dollar sculptures that now grace two traffic circles on Segovia Way, but emails sent to the city commission reveal the depths of their distaste for the brightly colored, futuristic flowers.
Scores of messages landed in commissioners' inboxes after the artwork made its debut in late June. In a batch obtained by New Times through a public records request, residents had no shortage of criticism for the first art commissioned by the city since the 1920s.
“How something so horrendous, garish, cartoonish, and Andy Warhol pop artish came to be approved for this is beyond any area of my comprehension. What in the world were you people thinking?" wrote Sharon Watson. "The City Beautiful... remember that part?”
Many residents panned the artwork — which the artist said references “satellites, antennas, and mechanical robotic floral objects” — for clashing with the Gables' trademark Mediterranean vibe.
Officials repeatedly outlined the selection process — there were 181 submissions from around the world — and pointed out the voting was unanimous for New York artist Alice Aycock.
Here's a sample of how people responded:
- "It reminds me of the plant in Little Shop of Horrors that eats people," Dyanne Feinberg Henkel wrote.
- "I can only hope that a really large truck going 100 miles per hour hits them," Aida Teresa Baladi commented.
- “I just don’t care to see what looks like an alien invader landing at the gates of Coral Gables,” Miami Herald photographer Al Diaz quipped.
- “The ‘art’ being installed here is one more representation of the lack of culture and aesthetic insensitivity that has prevailed in our City during the last thirty years that I have lived here," Fernando Menoyo said. "We are no City Beautiful, we are Tacky City.”
- “The one on Biltmore Way strikes me as akin to the home run sculpture in Marlins Park," Andy Tramont opined. "I half expect it to start spinning around when Giancarlo Stanton hits his next homer."
- "You could put diamonds on them and it would not make any difference," Judith Friedman wrote. "You may have had good intentions to make the city beautiful, but I doubt that even Disney World would have accepted these things in their theme park.”
There was also anger about the cost of the project, which was funded through the city's Neighborhood Renaissance Program and a $40,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
“HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE and HORRIBLE idea for the CITY of CORAL GABLES," Jorge Soler wrote. "Wasting money when The City is running SHORT and this piece of iron nothing has to do with the Mediterranean Style of Coral Gables Construction... When I take this street to go to the downtown and I see this sculpture I close my eyes."
Several emailers said the city could have installed a fountain or planted a banyan tree for a much more reasonable price.
Aycock, who has work on display at sites including Dulles International Airport and in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, told the Miami Herald that "everybody gave this everything they had" to provide Coral Gables with a unique piece of art.
"It was meant not in any way to insult people or to diminish them," Aycock said.
Dissonance is part of the idea behind the sculptures. Aycock said they "have an alien quality to them" and "suggest something about the age we are entering in terms of how we respond to life and nature."
The artwork does have its fans: A couple of residents emailed commissioners to say they liked it. "The artist is well recognized in the art world, and the execution of the works are excellent," Richard B. Bermont wrote. "You can be proud of your selections."
Yet more than 100 people have signed a petition calling for the flowers to be moved someplace "more suitable," such as Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. (The Herald notes a relocation might be tricky: According to the city's contract with Aycock, the sculptures cannot be moved for six months unless she agrees otherwise.)
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In replying to negative emails, Commissioner Patricia Keon said she hoped residents would give the artwork a chance.
"My first reaction was not so favorable either," she wrote to a constituent. "However, I know that the artist is a very well-respected American artist for large public art pieces in the U.S. and Europe. Her work is also in many museums around the world. Although it is not what I would purchase for myself, I am willing to give it time to be finished and set in its place for a while.”
At least one resident seemed open to doing the same.
“Maybe it was too soon for modern art in our streets," Tramont wrote. "Or maybe it’s time that philistines like me start broadening our horizons so maybe we can appreciate works like these! Who knows?"