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Pop-Culture All Stars Back Santa Monica's “Chain Reaction”

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By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

July 16, 2013 -- The movement to save Santa Monica's “Chain Reaction” sculpture got some serious star power last week when television producer Norman Lear and pop artist Ed Ruscha added their support.

Ruscha -- whose art has been displayed alongside the likes of Andy Warhol -- and Lear -- the creative force behind paradigm-shifting sitcoms like All in the Family and The Jeffersons -- added their support to the effort to raise $400,000 to repair the 26-foot facsimile of a mushroom cloud designed by Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Paul Conrad. (“Santa Monica City Council Gives 'Chain Reaction' Another Year,” January 24)

“I think the biggest thing is that there have been some who have wondered whether Chain Reaction is art or not,” said Dave Conrad, Paul Conrad's son and the driving force behind the fundraising effort.

While Lear, a long-time friend of the Conrad family, offered a verbal endorsement of the sculpture, Ruscha cut a $5,000 check for the effort, the largest single contribution to the fundraising effort to date.

Like Paul Conrad, whose sculpture of a nuclear explosion made of chains was meant as an anti-nuclear statement, Lear is no stranger to mixing politics with art.

His 1979 breakthrough hit All in the Family is considered a seminal example of socially-conscious television, exploring such controversial issues as racism, sexism and the tumult of counter-cultural America through the lens of a blue-collar American family.

Lear went on to produce The Jeffersons, a show about an upwardly-mobile black family living in New York City, as well as Sanford and Son, Good Times, and Maude.
He also founded the progressive advocacy group, People for the American Way.

While Lear was breaking ground in American television, Ruscha was at the forefront of the 1960s most-recognized artistic movement.

In 1962, Ruscha's work was was displayed alongside Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Robert Dowd, Phillip Hefferton, Joe Goode, Jim Dine, and Wayne Thiebaud, in a show at the Pasadena Art Museum that is commonly-considered the first “Pop Art” exhibition in the U.S.

Ruscha's prolific body of work runs the gamut of artistic media, from painting to photography and film to sculpture. He has even incorporated gun powder and blood into his art.

“Two big names are certainly going to help our credibility and raise awareness of the problem of 'Chain Reaction',” said Conrad. “Thanks to both of those guys for stepping up and adding their credibility to our cause. May we continue to find more.”

Local activist Jerry Rubin, a vocal supporter of saving the sculpture, said, “I think it's great to have such creative and dedicated people committed to saving this important and timely sculpture.”

The endorsements come on the heels of the launch of a new website where visitors can donate money and watch a short video about “Chain Reaction.”

Conrad also hopes that the new endorsements will drum up some interest for a July 28 event at Bergamot Station where editorial cartoonist Mr. Fish will talk with journalist Bob Scheer about Paul Conrad.

For information about “Chain Reaction,” visit

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