Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Chain Reaction Sculpture Undergoes Renovation in front of SM Courthouse

Sculpture that warns of the danger of nuclear war, is now 25 and in danger of falling over

 

December 14, 2016

David Ganezer

The City Council set a deadline of February 1, 2014, for supporters of the sculpture to contribute to restoration funds, otherwise the sculpture could face decommissioning.

Chain Reaction is a peace monument and public art sculpture composed of a metal framework of stainless steel and fiberglass surrounded by concrete, depicting a mushroom cloud created by a nuclear explosion. The much loved and much hated work is finally undergoing renovation across the street from a US Military think tank.

Designed by LA Times editorial cartoonist Paul Conrad and built by Peter M. Carlson, the 5.5-ton, 26-foot high sculpture was installed in 1991 adjacent to the Santa Monica Civic Center.

Some think it is intended as a jab at RAND, a think tank with many military contracts, across Main Street from the statute.

An inscription at the base of the sculpture reads, "This is a statement of peace. May it never become an epitaph." The theme of the sculpture reflects the subject of nuclear disarmament. UCLA professor Paul Von Blum places the sculpture in the category of late 20th and early 21st century contemporary American public political artwork in the tradition of commemorative works throughout the United States, calling the work "a powerful warning about the continuing dangers of nuclear war".

Conrad first expressed interest in building the sculpture in either Beverly Hills or Santa Monica in 1988. He built the sculpture with the help of an anonymous donation of $250,000 and donated the sculpture to the city of Santa Monica after it was approved by the city. It was later revealed that the donation came from philanthropist Joan Kroc, widow of Ray Kroc, the founder of the McDonald's corporation. Joan Kroc spent millions campaigning for nuclear disarmament in the 1980s. In 2012, the sculpture became the first work of public art designated as a historic landmark in the City of Santa Monica.

"Chain Reaction" hasn't been without criticism, says the LA Times. The statue was placed in Santa Monica in 1991, several years after Conrad offered it to the city. A scale model was displayed at City Hall next to a ballot box, and visitors voted against it, 730 to 392, in 1989. The City Council finally agreed to accept it in 1990 after the Santa Monica Arts Commission voted multiple times to accept it.

Former Santa Monica City Councilman Dennis Zane, who voted against putting it in the city, told The Times in 1991, "I think Paul Conrad is brilliant, but the piece is ugly. That piece in that place is a non sequitur."

Conrad had also offered the sculpture to the City of Beverly Hills, which rejected it because an appropriate site could not be found.

After Conrad died in 2010, the city of Santa Monica began to reevaluate the structural integrity of the sculpture. In June 2011, an inspector observed children climbing the sculpture. He felt this was inherently unsafe, and fencing should be built around it to keep kids off.

David Ganezer

Community activists debated how to pay for needed repairs and a series of fundraisers were held to contribute to the restoration project. On February 25, the Santa Monica City Council voted 6–1 to use $100,000 in public donations to finish refurbishing the work.

Safety tests were performed showing that the underlying structure built using fiberglass and copper chains was stable. However, questions were raised about the long term integrity of the fiberglass. An inspection found rust and corrosion on the steel frame skeleton and the revealed that the anchor bolts holding the sculpture to the base were weakened. Shortly after the inspection, the city installed a safety fence around the sculpture to protect the public.

The city's Arts Commission voted in February 2012 to allow the work to be removed from public display. The Santa Monica City Council approved the Arts Commission's recommendation the next month. The city council delayed taking action to allow supporters time to raise funds to cover the cost of repairs.

The City Council set a deadline of February 1, 2014, for supporters of the sculpture to contribute to restoration funds, otherwise the sculpture could face decommissioning. Community activists debated how to pay for needed repairs and a series of fundraisers were held to contribute to the restoration project. Having failed to fundraise enough money, on February 25, the Santa Monica City Council voted 6–1 to use $100,000 from City taxpayers to finish refurbishing Chain Reaction.

 
 

Reader Comments
(1)

GaryZ writes:

Thank you for reporting on the work being done to preserve Paul Conrad's sculpture Chain Reaction. Please add some details on the type of work being done and the schedule until completion. Can anyone confirm if Paul Conrad came up with This is a statement of peace. May it never become an epitaph. Which is actually timeless!

 
 
 

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