Sculpture will put Sacramento on the arts map; plan also supports local artists

An artist’s rendering shows the proposed Jeff Koons sculpture as the centerpiece of the public plaza in front of the new downtown arena.
An artist’s rendering shows the proposed Jeff Koons sculpture as the centerpiece of the public plaza in front of the new downtown arena. Sacramento Kings

Art is at the center of a spirited conversation currently happening in our community. I am honored to be a member of the selection panel of curators, collectors, designers and local artists who recommended that the monumental sculpture “Coloring Book,” by world-renowned artist Jeff Koons, be purchased for the Entertainment and Sports Center.

On Tuesday, the Sacramento City Council will consider this purchase, plus an allocation of $1.5 million toward the acquisition of work by local and regional artists. The chance to secure a work of public art that can attract global attention is rare, but the chance to do this and provide $1.5 million for local artists is unprecedented in Sacramento.

As I’ve watched the debate over the past week and a half, I’ve heard and read concerns from the community about local participation, the process of selecting the sculpture, and the artist and the importance of his work. These issues and more were considered and vetted during the selection process.

Public art in cities around the globe has been created by local and non-local artists to great acclaim for both. For example, Chicago’s art scene is bolstered by the sculpture “Cloud Gate” in Millennium Park by British artist Anish Kapoor. Sacramento needs to attract artists from all over the country, while continuing to strongly support local talent. The $1.5 million commitment to regional art will do this.

When choosing public art, you are looking not only at today, but at decades to come. When I think about the placement of the sculpture in the arena’s public plaza, I envision it as the catalyst for a string of sculptures that will link the arena plaza, Capitol Mall, Crocker Art Museum, Raley Field and public walks on both sides of the Sacramento River, creating an outdoor gallery many acres in size. “Coloring Book” can and will be a work that inspires others to commission art for our city, creating a destination for all to enjoy.

When I saw the vibrancy of Sacramento’s locally grown TBD Music Fest, I saw not only local music acts, but also internationally recognized musicians playing on the same stages. The installation of a major artwork by a prominent artist will draw visitors who will also see the work of Sacramento artists.

Today, Koons is, for many, a favorite artist to hate. His works reflect the cash and flash of our culture. Love it or hate it, his is an undeniably accomplished body of work. There is a reason the Whitney Museum chose him as its closing exhibition: He is arguably the art world’s greatest living star. The chance to secure a work of public art that attracts global attention is an opportunity most cities only dream of.

Last week, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, as part of the Sacramento Speakers Series, spoke of how the loudness of negativity often drowns out the positivity that exists. The fact that $4 million has been donated by private individuals to nearly double the arena public art budget has gotten lost in the discourse. I am grateful for these generous contributions, which could become a model for increasing the money available for public art in Sacramento. Conversely, we run the risk of forever discouraging the future generosity of donors.

Concerns have been voiced about the selection process. A significant factor for direct selection was the mandated timing of the arena’s opening in October 2016. Many on the panel had firsthand experience with the delays involved with commissioning a piece of artwork of this scale. Knowing these risks, and given the short timeline, an open competition would have been a tenuous path, so we recommended “Coloring Book.”

Art should inspire debate and discussion. An artwork fails when it elicits no response, so I am pleased that a lively discussion has emerged. By purchasing “Coloring Book,” along with artworks by regional artists, we illustrate that our community values creativity, dialogue and a wide range of art that will enhance our city and its reputation as an art center.

Lial Jones is director of the Crocker Museum of Art and was on the selection panel that recommended the Jeff Koons sculpture to the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission.

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