Editorials

City Council should rise above local politics, approve Koons sculpture

Jeff Koons’ “Rabbit” is one of his sculptures featured in a career retrospective exhibit installed last June at Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The Sacramento City Council is to vote Tuesday night on a contract for a Koons sculpture at the new downtown arena.
Jeff Koons’ “Rabbit” is one of his sculptures featured in a career retrospective exhibit installed last June at Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The Sacramento City Council is to vote Tuesday night on a contract for a Koons sculpture at the new downtown arena. Associated Press file

It shouldn’t shock anyone that some local artists are upset that a New York-based sculptor is in line to get the acclaim – and the money – for the public art at the new downtown Sacramento arena.

However understandable, that disappointment isn’t a good enough reason for the City Council to overrule the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission. Council members need to rise above politics and parochialism, look at the big picture and approve the $7.5 million purchase contract Tuesday night with Jeff Koons for his “Coloring Book” sculpture.

It would be the city’s most expensive public art project ever – $7.5 million, including a $4.5 million slice of the arena’s construction cost. (Another $500,000 from the public art allocation would go to transport and maintain the sculpture.)

Sure, it would have been more democratic to have an open competition to pick the arena art. But the Koons sculpture comes with $4 million in private donations – $3 million from three Kings owners for the sculpture, plus $1 million for local art – that the council is also voting whether to accept. Deals like this don’t come along very often.

Let’s say the council rejects the contract with Koons and directs the arts commission to hold an open competition, or even to give preference to local and regional artists.

There is absolutely no guarantee that what is eventually picked would be any less controversial. That’s the thing about art – it’s in the eye of the beholder, and universal approval rarely happens. And if the selection process drags on, it could threaten the tight timeline to have the art in place when the arena opens in October 2016.

Critics point out that the sculpture – which they call “Piglet” after the child’s “Winnie the Pooh” coloring book drawing that inspired Koons – was not specifically designed with the arena in mind. “Plop art,” they call it. But you can argue that a splash of color is exactly the right contrast with the arena’s silvery-white facade.

It’s important to note that local and regional artists would still have the chance to compete for commissions totaling $1.5 million for artwork inside the arena and possibly the outdoor plaza.

The city also points out that its support of local arts and cultural groups totals $635,000 in grants and awards over three years, plus $371,000 for facilities. In the last seven years, local and regional artists have received public art commissions totaling more than $1.5 million. In addition, the council set aside $2.5 million in November to help the B Street Theatre complete financing for its new complex in midtown and is to vote March 17 on $5 million to help renovate the Fremont School into the Studios for the Performing Arts.

Even if an outsider gets the commission for the arena, the city isn’t starving local artists.

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