Boynton Beach commissioners and the city’s arts advisory board are in a dispute over a sculpture the board approved for installation at WXEL’s office plaza on Congress Avenue.
ABOVE: A model of the sculpture, Harmony, by artist Patti Warashina, who lives in Seattle. RIGHT: A drawing of the sculpture showing its scale. Photo and rendering provided
By Tao Woolfe
The Boynton Beach City Commission and the arts advisory board are at odds over a 12-foot-tall sculpture titled, ironically, Harmony.
The sculpture depicts an elf-like Asian figure balancing on a globe, holding a musical note and a baton in its upraised hands.
The artwork was commissioned by WXEL for its office plaza at 3401 S. Congress Ave., as part of the city’s Art in Public Places program. But the public media company’s choice of artwork has rubbed some the wrong way.
At a City Commission meeting on Aug. 15, members of the audience described the sculpture as “hideous” and even “satanic,” and decried the arts advisory board’s recent 3-2 vote to approve the project.
By the end of the long night and wide-ranging discussion, the City Commission had decided it will be the final arbiter of all public art that evokes controversy.
Specifically, the commission approved an ordinance on first reading that will allow the commissioners to overrule any arts advisory board choices that bear a whiff of residents’ disapproval. The override would need only a simple majority vote, the ordinance says.
The commissioners also discussed the possibility of limiting artist eligibility to Florida, with an emphasis on artists from the tri-county area.
Patti Warashina, the creator of the Harmony sculpture, lives in Seattle. Her work has won so many awards — local and national — that they take up a full page of her résumé.
Most recently, the awards include the Smithsonian Visionary Artist award, the American Craft Council gold medal and a National Endowment for the Arts award.
Her work, which spans 50 years, is on display in museums, colleges and public squares from Pomona, California, to Kyoto, Japan.
According to a biography of the artist written for the John Natsoulas Center for the Arts in Davis, California, Warashina likes to inject humor and irony into her work.
“The human figure has been an absorbing visual fascination in my work. I use the figure in voyeuristic situations in which irony, humor, absurdities portray human behavior as a relief from society’s pressure and frustrations on mankind,” Warashina said in a statement she gave to the Davis museum.
Cindy Falco DiCorrado, one of the Boynton Beach residents who complained that Warashina’s artwork is “demonic,” said that besides this particular piece of artwork, DiCorrado objects to Warashina’s politics.
The 83-year-old artist has parodied presidential candidate Donald Trump in her work. DiCorrado is an outspoken Trump supporter.
“Pedophilia is rampant,” DiCorrado said. “There are signs and symbols. This is what that statue represents. … This has got to stop.”
Jackie Dobbins, who lives near WXEL’s offices, agreed.
“Did we throw the beach and the water away to become Lucifer’s playground?” she asked. “There’s so much satanic stuff in the city it makes my stomach crawl.”
Two members of the arts advisory board spoke up at the City Commission meeting, and although they did not detail the arts board’s thinking in approving the sculpture, they defended the overall work and mission of the board.
“I am proud to be a member of the arts board,” said Ace Tilton Ratcliff, who voted in favor of installing Harmony. “I’m proud to have this sculpture — the first artwork by an Asian-American. Patti Warashina is amazing.”
Barbara Ready, who was chairwoman of the city’s arts commission for seven years, said she is concerned about the city’s attempt at censorship.
“Art is very subjective. There are pieces that a lot of people like, some that some people like, and some that people dislike,” Ready said after the meeting. “The city commissioners allowed themselves to be swayed by squeaky wheels and small- mindedness.”
Ready said that if the commission limits the work to only coastal themes and local artists, a deeper, richer level of work will be lost to the city.
She also worries that developers watching the arts fight might be discouraged about enthusiastically giving money to the Boynton Beach Public Art Fund.
The Art in Public Places program is funded through a 1% fee, meaning that developers pay a fee of 1% of their construction budgets to facilitate artwork. The artwork can be created for their properties or spent on artwork in other parts of the city.
The ordinance allowing the City Commission to override the arts board is expected to come back before commissioners for a second reading in the coming weeks.
WXEL did not respond to requests for comment.