Coral Gables recently paid around $1 million for a pair of flower-like sculptures to celebrate its roots as a garden city. But some residents say the artwork, which was installed in traffic circles on Segovia Street in June, looks more like something from Little Shop of Horrors.
They claim the brightly colored structures, which the artist says reference “satellites, antennas, and mechanical robotic floral objects,” clash with the city’s Mediterranean vibe. Residents have been vocal with their complaints about the artwork, saying it would be more at home in Coconut Grove, Wynwood, Brickell, or even Epcot than their "City Beautiful."
Accordingly, a petition is calling for the pieces to be moved someplace more “suitable,” such as one of the city’s parks. The letter has 120 signatures so far, but the organizers say that's just a small sampling of those dissatisfied with the artwork.
“Our opposition is not out of a lack of respect for the artist’s talents, but due to the fact that the artwork does not represent what our city is all about and what George Merrick envisioned Coral Gables to be: a Mediterranean city mirrored after Spanish historical sites,” the petition reads.
In 2014, Coral Gables chose New York artist Alice Aycock to create the city’s first commissioned art since Merrick’s heyday. Sculptures for the traffic circles at Coral Way and Biltmore Way were included in the city’s public art plan and funded through the city's Neighborhood Renaissance Program and a $40,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Aycock was selected out of 181 artists from around the world.
“The city was looking for something that would be almost like a destination artwork, so significant that it would represent the city, and people would say, ‘Wow,’” judging panel member Carol Damian told the South Florida News Service.
But Olga Remudo says she screeched to a halt the day she first saw the giant flowers. When she talked to her neighbors, she said, she heard a lot of anger over the pieces. That's why she started the petition to move them. One resident who emailed her said Merrick would come out of his grave if he saw them.
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Some have even complained that the sculptures are at odds with the city's notoriously strict codes, which limit house colors and until recent years even banned pickup trucks from parking in front of homes overnight. The petition says that besides not jibing with the city's aesthetic, the sculptures are so distracting they're a traffic hazard.
But that dissonance is part of the idea behind the sculptures, according to the artist, who says the pieces "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."
Despite the uproar, the work does have its supporters.
“I happen to think it’s bright and whimsical and upbeat and positive and unique. And I like it,” says Gay Bondurant, who sits on the board of the nonprofit Gables Good Government Committee and wants to make clear she's speaking only for herself. “But that’s just me... Most people who know me have questioned my sanity about the fact I like it.”