This is Not A Spoof - This Actually Happens in My City

From The Charlotte Observer

Posted on Wed, Jun. 06, 2007
$340,000 sculpture's bushes need new home

The Charlotte Coliseum was demolished Sunday, leaving behind nothing but rubble and a $340,000 sculpture by famed artist Maya Lin.
The debris will be cleared to make way for an 170-acre mixed-use project called City Park, but the fate of the live artwork's nine holly bushes isn't as clear.
The developers are trying to move ahead with their project while honoring a contract crafted years ago with Lin, best known for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, and landscape artist Henry Arnold. But the developers haven't decided what to do, and the artists haven't said what they want, either.
Charlotte's public art has courted controversy over the years. But now the community faces a new type of question: What happens to public art once it falls into private hands?
The "Topo" artwork was commissioned in 1989 for the city's coliseum. But when city officials sold the property in March 2006 to help fund a new uptown arena, the art also left their hands. And now the building that the "site-specific" piece was designed to complement is gone, too.
"It's a grave disappointment to see this happen," said Arnold, the N.J.-based landscape artist.
Atlanta-based Pope & Land Enterprises developers said they hope to decide what to do with the artwork in the next three months. But their plans for City Park still need to clear the hurdles of rezoning and City Council approval.
At this point, Mason Zimmerman of Pope & Land said the firm hopes to incorporate the willow oaks along the edge of the piece into the new development that will have shops and up to 2,500 homes.
But the bushes orphaned by the Coliseum's demise? No botanical gardens have accepted an offer to take in the work, Zimmerman said.
And Lin hasn't responded to attempts to ask her what she wants done, according to the developer and Lin's assistant. Lin also hasn't responded to the Observer's repeated efforts to reach her.
Meanwhile Arnold, the other creator, said the developers never formally notified him.
The sales agreement states that the developer must notify and give the artist the option to remove the installation. Also, the initial art contract says the city would consult with the artists and make reasonable efforts to maintain the integrity of the art.
Furthermore, the federal Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 allows artists to "prevent any destruction of a work of recognized stature," but in this case Lin and Arnold signed the contract in 1989, so it's not clear if the act applies to them. And the city's contract stated that the city could destroy "Topo" if it notified the artists, gave them a chance to take the art back, and tried to sell or donate the piece.
Now, Arnold said he isn't sure what he thinks should happen to the artwork.
The piece was designed with the Coliseum in mind, with the intent that it would mature alongside the sports arena. But the building was deemed obsolete after 19 years, well before the trees in the sculpture formed the canopy the artists had envisioned. Without the building and its basketball games, Arnold said, the art is "left in a vacuum."
It also isn't easily moveable. "Topo" involves dirt contoured along a slope, the giant holly bushes, trees and grass. Arnold acknowledged that it would be "extremely difficult" and expensive to move.
This latest dilemma is a spin on Charlotte's usual problems surrounding public art. Typically, controversy happens when the art arrives, not when it is departing.
Eastover residents protested a yellow aluminum sculpture outside the Mint Museum in the 1970s, and Mayor Pat McCrory objected to art planned for the new Bobcats Arena in 2004. As recently as Monday, the council squabbled about art slated for a street improvement project.
And the "Topo" installation itself was born out of controversy. The City Council chose it after rejecting a 22-foot bronze sculpture by New York artist Joel Shapiro that critics labeled "Gumby" for the 1950s cartoon character.
However, Jean Greer, Arts & Science Council vice president for public art, said she wasn't aware of any other pieces of public art becoming private. "I think this would be the first," she said.
Arnold said Tuesday that he hopes to speak with Lin today and determine what they think should happen to their creation.
Until there's a plan, Pope & Land said, it will keep maintaining the site, trimming the grass and watering the bushes that make up the artwork.
What: Nine holly bushes spread along a 1,600-foot grassy stretch at the center of the Coliseum's entrance, with willow oaks lining the side. The idea of the piece, called "The Playing Field" during its design phase, was to riff off the sports played inside the Coliseum, with spherical bushes appearing to roll down the hill, and the final bush appearing to be a ball on the edge of a goal. The artists envisioned the willow trees growing up into a canopy to "protect" the playing field. The original design also called for lights under the bushes and a sprinkler system to produce mist on special occasions.
Who: Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, and Henry Arnold, a landscape architect based in Princeton, NJ.
When: The city commissioned the artwork in 1989 after another proposal was mocked by locals. It was dedicated in 1991.
How much: The piece cost $340,000. The city has estimated it costs up to $10,000 a year to maintain.
Why: The project was commissioned because a city program allocated up to 1 percent of public building construction budgets for art. When "Topo" was created, officials said they expected the art to become its own attraction to the site.
What Maya Lin Said
"Is it art or is it a park? I like that ambiguity."
-- At the 1991 dedication of "Topo"
"To make something as playful and irreverent as this after the completion of the Vietnam and Civil Rights memorials was crucial to me. After creating two memorials, I needed to prove to myself and others that I wasn't going to be stereotyped."
-- In her 2000 book, "Boundaries"