Explosive conversation piece


The proposal to remove the George Sugarman sculpture from the plaza outside the U. S. District Courthouse downtown is as wrong-headed as was the attempt to prevent it from being put there in the first place, two decades ago.

The sculpture belongs where it is. Removing it would set a terrible example. And the reason given -- that it's a security risk -- is a far-fetched fear, being used as an excuse to get rid of a piece of art that some people simply don't like -- just as it was back then.

Back then, federal judges tried to get rid of it because they didn't like the looks of it, and everybody knew that. But the first excuse for not wanting it was that some lunatic with a bomb might lurk there and throw the bomb at people going in or out of the building. The argument didn't fly, and the sculpture came and stayed. Nobody's thrown a bomb.

Now, U.S. Marshal Scott A. Sewell, in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, has asked that the Sugarman sculpture be removed because it might act as a bomb. Somebody could plant a bomb there, it could explode, and, Sewell has written, "the steel pieces would become shrapnel similar to that of a hand grenade, but on a much larger scale!"

Yes, it's conceivable. It's also conceivable that some maniac will lurk in the trees and bushes near the building with a machine gun and let people have it as they pass by. But do we remove the trees and bushes from the proximity of this and presumably every other building because they might harbor homicidal madmen?

It's conceivable that someone could hire a plane and drop a bomb on the courthouse, but do we put anti-aircraft guns on the roof to guard against such an unlikely scenario? Of course not. The idea of the Sugarman sculpture being used as a giant hand grenade is not impossible. What is? But surely it's the kind of remote possibility that would not be seriously considered if it weren't a piece of art that some people don't like and want taken away.

As such, the attempt to remove it, if successful, would set a miserable example. There are always people who don't like this or that sculpture in this or that public place and would love to see it removed on some pretext or other. Do we now have a movement to remove the Kenneth Snelson and Mark di Suvero sculptures from the Inner Harbor because they might become unstable and fall on somebody? Do we have parents objecting to sculptures on school grounds because some child, someday, might skin a knee climbing on one?

One proposal is not to remove the piece altogether but move it to another spot on a redesigned plaza. Sugarman has even said he might agree to a relocation. That's surprising, both because Sugarman is known for designing sculpture for specific sites and because it's so appropriate where it is.

Made of steel painted blue, green and yellow, it combines industrial materials with organic shape and the colors of sky, sun and foliage. Its size, shape and colors make it a proper contrast to the geometric grayness of the building. It also mediates between the building and the trees and other nearby landscaping. And it's a happy piece that can provide a little momentary lift and even chuckle for people immediately before or after doing their very serious work inside the building. All these purposes will be served less well if it's moved to a less visible spot, farther from the building.

It's possible that some other appropriate place could be found for it on a redesigned plaza. But if that is to be done, the artist should be consulted, and his consent to the new location should be a prerequisite for moving it. Hiding it off in some remote corner is not the answer for the work of art or the plaza.

It was meant to be where it is, and it works there. Don't move it just to get it out of the way.

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