Los Angeles International Airport Controversy Over Public Art

Update:

At their August 2, 2001 meeting, the Cultural Affairs Commission reaffirmed their support for Susan Narduli‘s work at LAX. They decided there was no reason to continue reassessing the work. NCAC congratulates the Commission for taking a principled position!

For LA Times story, click here.

Background (posted July 24, 2001, updated July 30, 2001). In the latest issue of Censorship News we included an article pointing at an increasing discomfort around showing one of the traditional subjects of art: the nude human body. In one more incident involving nudes, LAX officials have covered up a public artwork awaiting a decision as to what art is appropriate for an airport and what might possibly offend one of the thousands of people passing through it. The work was unveiled several weeks ago as part of a $245-million renovation project by American Airlines at Terminal No. 4. But the airport agency ordered the airline to cover the floor just a few hours later. The work is currently under review at the agency that runs the airport and the city’s Cultural Affairs Commission.

Los Angeles World Airports and the L.A. Cultural Committee need to hear from you: this is not solely a local issue; airports are places where people from all over the world, and of all possible persuasions converge. Removing art work that some hypothetical passenger might disagree with means considering the often contradictory beliefs and ideas of billions, thus effectively paralyzing the creative artist.

Susan Narduli’s work consists of a Muybridge-like series of nude men moving towards flight sandblasted into the granite floor of the terminal (the genitals are obscured by subtle shading). The artist hoped to evoke humankind’s yearning to transcend earthly bounds and soar toward the heavens. The classical nudes (modeled after Leonardo daVinci’s work) can hardly be interpreted as meant to provoke or shock, nor were they intended to do so.

You can judge for yourself:

"I stumbled upon some documentation from early times where men, in their desire to fly, would find the highest place in the village and strap on some kind of flying machine and jump," Narduli said. "Ninety-nine percent of them died. I was so moved by this that, even though this figurative element was difficult to develop, it’s something I felt was critical to the overall project."

The controversy has raised questions about just how public art at the airport should be approved. American and Narduli provided conceptual drawings of the figures to the city’s Cultural Affairs Commission in 1999. The commission approved the drawings. The airline didn’t submit the drawings to Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that operates LAX, because it was not required to do so. But the city agency that operates the airport insists it has the right to review all artwork installed at LAX, because it’s being displayed on agency land. The airport agency asked the airline to resubmit the finished product to the Cultural Affairs Commission. Airport officials would like the cultural panel to review the work again, because they believe the final design doesn’t match what the artist originally submitted. Narduli says her concept is "absolutely intact" from the early drawings presented to the city.

Even if the commission approves the final product and the figures are uncovered, the airport agency will reserve judgment until it sees how the art plays with the public, said Kim Day, deputy executive director at the city airport agency.

Having the fate of a public artwork decided by the chance protest of some few passengers who happen to dislike a work would potentially make it impossible to have public art at all?for where is the piece (be it architectural or artistic) that we all unanimously like?

(All quotes are from Jennifer Oldham’s July 19, 2001 article for the LA Times. For the full story, click here.)

The issue is on the agenda of the Cultural Affairs Commission for Thursday, August 2, 2001, 9:25AM. The meetings are open to the public. You can attend and express your opinion. The commission will meet at the Cultural Affairs Department City of Los Angeles, 433 S. Spring St. 10th Floor.

To give your support to a campaign to get public support for the artist, click here.

You can also write to:

Cultural Affairs Department City of Los Angeles
433 S. Spring St. 10th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Tel (213) 473-7700

Cultural Affairs Commission
Tel (213) 473-7720
Fax (213) 473-8352

Department of Cultural Affairs Commission Members
Lee Ramer, President
Kim L. Hunter, Vice President
Alycia D. Enciso
Audrey Greenberg
Jayne Levant
Dennis R. Martinez
Donald H. Smith

Los Angeles World Airports
1 World Way
Los Angeles, California 90045
Mailing Address:
Post Office Box 92216
Los Angeles, California 90009-2216
Tel (310) 646 – 5252
Website www.lawa.org

Board Of Airport Commissioners
Secretary to Board (310) 646-6263

Administration:

Lydia Kennard, Executive Director
Tel (310) 646-6250

Paul Green, Deputy Executive Director (Chief Operating Officer)
Tel (310) 417-6429

Philip Depoian, Deputy Executive Director
Government & External Affairs
Tel (310) 646-8158

Paul Haney, Deputy Executive Director
Public & Community Relations
Tel (310) 417-1082

Kim Day, Deputy Executive Director
Project & Facilities Development
Tel (310) 646-7393

For more information contact:

Svetlana Mintcheva, Arts Advocacy Coordinator
National Coalition Against Censorship
212/607-8222 x23