Santa Monica city officials have begun to examine the wear and tear of the Chain Reaction sculpture in front of the Civic Center to determine how best to preserve the iconic art piece for future generations.
The city has erected a temporary fence around Paul Conrad’s 26-foot-tall sculpture of a nuclear mushroom cloud to help prevent access to the artwork while an independent structural engineering assessment is conducted.
The sculpture, dedicated in 1991, is made of copper tubing over a fiberglass core with an internal frame of stainless steel and rests on a concrete base.
City Building Officer Ron Takiguchi said he recently observed members of the public, including children, climbing and interacting with the sculpture and was prompted to do a preliminary evaluation of its safety. Though Takiguchi was not able to determine the structural integrity of the work based solely on visual observation, he said he found a number of issues of concern due to the deteriorating condition of the sculpture.
One concern was that many of the fasteners that attach the copper tubing chain to the fiberglass core are missing or not fully imbedded and some exhibit severe corrosion. An interdepartmental group of city staff met to review the building officer’s findings and in the interest of public safety decided to fence off the work while additional research is conducted.
The process to examine how to handle deteriorating art pieces involves a review by a conservator and development of recommendations for the Public Art Committee and the Arts Commission based on the conservator’s findings, city officials explained. In addition, the artist or heirs must be notified of the situation.
In coordination with the building official, the city plans to contract an independent structural engineer along with a qualified arts conservator to review the work. The team will then make recommendations regarding the best approach to establishing with certainty the structural integrity of the sculpture, officials said.
The last time that the work was assessed by a conservator was in 2004, when it was cleaned and underwent a number of repairs.
Some local residents have offered support to the city’s effort to ensure the preservation of the unique artwork. Activist Jerry Rubin, who advocated for the sculpture’s placement, said he has created a petition to gather public support for the repair and reinforcement of Chain Reaction at its current location.
The sculpture was a gift to the city and was approved by the City Council in 1991 after extensive public process and debate. The work was funded by a private donation to the Santa Monica Arts Foundation and the gift is covered by an agreement with the artist.