Alibi V.13 No.7 • Feb 12-18, 2004 

Council Watch

Cones in the News

Councilors Eric Griego (l) and Martin Heinrich didn’ think the council should take up the arts  criticism busness.
Councilors Eric Griego (l) and Martin Heinrich didn’ think the council should take up the arts criticism busness.
Singeli Agnew

Sandwiched between the Super Bowl and New Mexico's Democratic Presidential Caucus, playing opposite Bush's Budget of Ballooning Baloney, and going head-to-head with Punxsutawney Phil, the Feb. 2 City Ccouncil meeting adjourned in less than two hours.

Most bills were deferred, including a resolution dropping efforts to sue the state over the new Water Utility Authority until after the Legislature adjourns. A major economic development bill was deferred until after an Economic Summit planned for March 25-26.

Council President Michael Cadigan deferred his bill naming the city's representatives to a commission to draft another Albuquerque-Bernalillo County unification charter. Noting that several people whose names had been forwarded for the commission declined to serve, Cadigan recommended asking first. Several councilors urged that new people be appointed for “a fresh look” at the job.

At the administration's urging Cadigan “reluctantly deferred” a bill allowing alleyways behind residences. Alleys provide rear access to garages, so lots can be narrower without creating that fantabulous all-garage-all-the-time streetscape. The access system also reduces the required width of streets and slows traffic through neighborhoods.

Councilors approved a new meeting calendar that returns to the system of two regular meetings per month along with Land Use and Finance committee meetings, which are also open to the public but less formal. A bill passed that adopts land use assumptions that will be used to set development impact fees.

IssueCouncil's TakeReporter's Take
1. Design by Committee
Recently, two big green cones were pacing Howard Dean's yell and Janet Jackson's nipple bauble in the negative publicity sweepstakes. District 7 Councilor Sally Mayer says her e-mails have been running 10-1 against the cone sculptures planned for the I-40 and Louisiana intersection. Renderings show two 64-foot by 36-foot green fabric cones designed to catch and funnel rainwater, placed on opposite corners of the intersection.

Under the overall jurisdiction of the Albuquerque Arts Board, each public art project has its own committee made up of an Arts Board member, a project manager and people from the neighborhood and arts community.

Mayer moved a floor substitute bill that stopped work on the cones and required putting a council member or member's representative on each project committee. She said it "turns the light on on this process." Mayer added that the 11-member Arts Board currently has five seats vacant. Heinrich, O'Malley and Gomez said that they had submitted names for the Arts Board, but had not received a response from the administration.

Garrett Smith, president of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, said there was no agreement among A.I.A. members about the artistic merit of the cones, but they "did absolutely agree on the process," and they supported the choice of artist and location.

Arts Board member Barbara Grothus said the bill established a very bad precedent of allowing the public to prevail over the artist. She said the idea that local art should "look like New Mexico" showed a "poverty of imagination."

Barbara Lohbeck said she represented District 7 and was the only voice of opposition to the cone project on the Arts Board. She said the way the project had been presented was "sloppy" and that the work had been approved without a quorum. Lohbeck questioned whether the fabric specified for the cones would hold up in Albuquerque's climate.

Heinrich asked how much the cones would cost. Ed Adams, director of the Department of Municipal Development, said the city would add $60,000 to the $240,000 in federal funds. The bill passed 7-2, Griego and Heinrich opposed on grounds that the council shouldn't be taking up the art criticism business.

I'm underwhelmed by thumbnail renderings of the cones, but small two-dimensional images never convey the actual effect of completed, giant-scale works. Nor can anyone foresee how future generations will regard a work despised by the public when it was built.

Most of the public, including veterans' groups, originally hated Maya Lin's abstract design for the Vietnam War memorial. Today, The Wall is perhaps the most admired achievement of American 20th century public art, a searing question that claws at concepts of nobility, necessity and loss.

On the other hand, the memorial now underway honoring World War II veterans had lots of public input, but has already been condemned by various art and architecture critics as a plodding pomposity more reminiscent of Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, than of the American veterans it honors. There'll never be a universally accepted answer to the debate over whether art should provoke us or comfort us. Probably the best we can hope for is an uneasy balance between ominous hunks of jagged metal and adorable bronze children romping in front of Thomas Kinkade cottages.