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Sculptor Fights to Save Public Artwork Beneath the Pier
 

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By Jorge Casuso

September 9, 2021 -- For more than 20 years, three orange boats have been strapped to pilings underneath the Santa Monica Pier serving as a clarion call to save the planet.

Now, the tides of change are poised to sweep away the environmental art installation created in 1998 by sculptor Manfred Müller and titled "Twilight and Yearning."

Müller -- whose sculptures have been widely exhibited -- has mounted a campaign to save the artwork the City plans to remove "citing safety concerns and the closure of this once public space."

"Twilight and Yearning" by Manfred Muller
"Twilight and Yearning" by Manfred Müller (Courtesy City of Santa Monica)

Meant to draw attention to ocean pollution and looming "environmental catastrophes," the installation's message is more urgent than ever during "a time of extreme desperation," Müller wrote in a letter urging supporters to email City officials.

"These three boats vertically latched to their posts submerged now in sand speak for themselves in the context of this environmental crisis," the artist wrote.

Müller's appeal comes after the City's Arts Commission and Cultural Affairs Office "decommissioned" the artwork.

"The sand has risen and the environment under the Pier has changed, so people can't access the artwork," said Constance Farrell, the City's public information officer.

Müller said he filed several appeals and "suggested ideas on ways of securing the beautiful space underneath the pier.

"It took me several afternoons to get estimates on better lighting and security systems but in the end, it was like talking to the wind," he wrote in his letter seeking support.

"At the time when it was first installed, it was understood that the city would do its part in keeping this space safe and secure."

Andy Agle, the City's director of Community Services, rejected the artist's appeals.

"Given that the [installation’s] burial in sand has created a hazard and the site is not open to the public, the city was unable to accommodate [Müller’s] request," Agle wrote in a statement.

Agle said the City hopes to commission Müller to document the history of the project and "contextualize the themes."

"With city support, the artist is crafting a proposal of documentation to be showcased online, and we are looking forward to seeing this come to fruition in the near future.”

Farrell said Agle's decision to deny the appeals stands. "That's it," she said. "That was the final marker in the process."

Müller contends that the City is not living up to the terms agreed to when the artwork was gifted with the following description:

The boats will not be lowered, and thus returned to their literal function until their symbolic message is perceived and a new feeling of responsibility has been translated into actions that begin to reverse the pollution of the ocean and prevent environmental catastrophes which destroy the elemental cycles which make life on this globe possible in the first place.

Müller said that "this part of the original description was also a part of the contract ... it has not been fulfilled."


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