Heavy Metal

The City Says A Sculpture’s Base Weighs Too Much For Civic Plaza

Laura Sanchez
4 min read
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The city’s latest public art controversy has nothing to do with style or subject matter. It’s all about weight. And process.

In 2006, well-known Albuquerque sculptor Renaldo “Sonny” Rivera was selected by standard Arts Board procedures to create an 8-foot-tall bronze sculpture of former mayor
Harry E. Kinney for Civic Plaza, which now bears Kinney’s name. The contract specified the city would be responsible for furnishing a concrete base for the $75,000 sculpture.

Late in 2007 the city said the concrete base would be too heavy to put on the plaza, which lies over the municipal parking garage. At the Feb. 20 meeting, councilors debated Mayor Martin Chavez’ executive communication calling for a $56,000 supplement for Rivera to create a bronze base to alleviate the weight problem.
Municipal Development Department head John Castillo said Rivera’s  artwork would actually be cheaper than using plain bronze.

Councilors concurred on the importance of Harry Kinney to the city’s history and that four bronze bas-reliefs from Sonny Rivera for $56,000 was a terrific deal. Bas-reliefs are flat panels displaying slightly raised scenes.

The process caused the problem. Councilor Debbie O’Malley said the city should be more careful about bids for art.

Council President Brad Winter asked City Attorney Bob White if the purchasing ordinance that limits change orders to 10 percent of an original contract applied to the project. White said it didn’t apply to projects from a program called One Percent for the Arts, which is city money used to fund public art.

Councilor Trudy Jones said the city shouldn’t change the scope of projects so drastically without getting re-bids. She said the sculpture had always been intended for the “top of the parking garage,” and the confusion was the city’s fault.  

The approval failed 4-4, with Councilors Isaac Benton, Ken Sanchez, Rey Garduño and Sally Mayer supporting. Councilors Winter, O’Malley, Jones and Michael Cadigan opposed, Councilor Don Harris excused.

The sculpture will be in Benton’s District 3. In a phone interview, Benton said the plaza had always had structural issues, which was why it had so little green space. He said the administration’s only explanation for changing from concrete to bronze with a steel support structure had been weight. There had been no detailed information why plain bronze would be more expensive than bronze bas-reliefs.

In a phone interview, Sonny Rivera said he had one conversation with the city “way back” and walked around Civic Plaza with an architect, who didn’t see a problem. He said the city hadn’t discussed the weight of the base with him.

Rivera said the statue will show Kinney, whom he remembers as “a really friendly guy,” as if he had one foot up on the running board of an old truck, with his briefcase, talking and gesturing with the other hand.

Kinney’s raised foot will be on the topmost of three 15-inch tiers that echo the forms of the large fountain 10 to 15 feet south of the sculpture. Rivera said the base will be reinforced cinder block filled with concrete, completely covered with quarter-inch bronze, with an inscription on one side. The other three sides will include bas-reliefs of projects for which Kinney is remembered—the Balloon Fiesta, scenes from a senior center, and bike and nature trails. Rivera said the whole installation would weigh less than a ton.

Mark Motsko, spokesperson for the Municipal Development Department, responded to
Alibi  calls but did not get back by press time with answers to questions about the weight of the original proposed statue and base versus alternate solutions, or why plain bronze panels would be more expensive than bronze sculptural panels.
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