continued The criterion from "this point forward," Goldman said, is "not to evaluate the artwork but to study whether or not the process was adhered to." She was adamant: The committee members are "not adjudicators of taste."
Catherine Sass said the committee never prescribed content. "We don't want to tell an artist what art is or should be. That's why we hire artists. What we want to tell them is what our needs are for the site."
Much of the ambiguity attached to this sculpture stemmed from a misperception of an unintended plan, whether this or any public artwork must represent something per se.
"If this sculpture is supposed to represent the view cut off by the convention center," citizen Bob White said, "then this is an abysmal failure. It doesn't represent San Diego. If you look out at the bay, I don't see those kinds of boats."
Artist Robin Bright countered, "I think the convention center is not right for San Diego. It cut off [the view of] the bay. Why not ameliorate what we have here, which is the complete extinction of the bay, and have this, which is a damn sight better than this building."
Sharon Carr of the Port Tenants' Association asked about the selection process: "There's a lot of good San Diego artists here who have local knowledge, so why don't we have local [artists for this project] that San Diegans can appreciate?"
Glen Craig, a local sculptor, said, "I don't feel slighted in the least by someone from L.A. or anywhere else. I could never attempt to do anything like this, this is just amazing. What [Rubins] does is take the boats and...they become -- they're not boats anymore. They're something else: They're dynamic, they're floating, they're fantasy, they're amazing."
Gaslamp restaurateur Lesley Cohn remarked, "I don't think many people knew about this. If there was a public outreach, they didn't reach out very far. This [artwork] has nothing to do with the Gaslamp."
One read and heard ardent wishes to identify or name the sculpture. Had the untitled assemblage a referent in nature, had it resembled a time-tested artwork elsewhere, the piece might sail through. But as metaphor, it was easy for naysayers to disparage it. The U-T letters led the epithet parade: "the ultimate Swiss army knife" and "boats piled up...like driftwood." At one session an upset woman spit out, "It looks like they're all crashed together, a hurricane." Others labeled it "a bunch of feathers caught in a fan" and "a gruesome monstrosity."
Some contend that San Diego's public art legacy (witness the steel spire by Ellsworth Kelly designed for the bayfront...now a tourist attraction in Barcelona) is so provincial and bland that those who want challenging art are incapable of ending the bias against it. For me that's an over-beaten dead horse. What's operating here is much more insidious -- the province of newspeak.
First is the careless editorializing by some members of the media. The U-T dismissed the project with an erroneous claim that "just about everybody who saw it" disliked it. A lie. Next came the TV viewer polls on the heels of the anchor's and reporter's opinions. "Is it art or just plain ugly?" Such an idiotic question poisons viewers' responses by implying that art can only be pretty. The last KFMB-TV poll, shown at 11:20 p.m. the night before the vote, was: Yes, 10 percent; No, 85 percent; Not Sure, 5 percent. But how many responded? 50? 500? And where was a statement, at the website or on air, that their poll reflected those who had been directed to vote because of News 8's coverage?
The most abusive practice, though, was to throw out the selection process by adding personal preference into one's judgment and then denying that one's preference had been used. Prior to the board's discussion, Roper said, "I think our job is to vote on the art being erected and whether it's appropriate for...the location it's in. I think that's our job. I don't think our job is to vote our personal favor or disfavor." Hadn't the oversight committee determined it was appropriate by unanimously voting for it? Why, then, did Roper need to reject personal favoritism? Unless, of course, he was about to use it in his vote.
Cushman remarked that he couldn't fault the "excellent process" all agreed to. Then he faulted it by asking the oversight committee to come up with more options. "What do we [port commissioners] know about art?" he said to a woman angered by his motion after the vote. "We know nothing. This [Rubins's piece] was just a different statement." Which, translated, sounds as though he had no problem disapproving of art that he knew nothing about.
Two days before Thanksgiving, Mayor Golding asked the convention center board to reconsider the issue, calling their decision "an embarrassment to San Diego." Is this more double-talk? Is it not over? Stay tuned, but be careful what you read and hear.