From Russia with 'ugh' Columbus statue: Work is too big, price is too high and many think it is abominable.


ART APPRECIATION is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder. Public art in particular provokes impassioned discussion. Should the Vietnam War Memorial include more traditional statuary? Should a statue of tennis great Arthur Ashe be placed among memorials to Confederate heroes? Should the FDR Memorial depict the late president in his wheelchair? Issues of symbolism and aesthetics carve great valleys of debate.

Yet regarding the 306-foot-tall Christopher Columbus statue designed by Russian artist Zurab Tsereteli, which some would like to see in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, artistic judgments are unusually similar: Atrocious, outsized, ugly.

Mr. Tsereteli, renowned for his Brobdingnagian works, offered the monument as a gift to the United States six years ago for the 500th anniversary of Columbus' landing in America, but it failed to secure a resting place in Florida, New York, or Columbus, Ohio.

Even supporters of the Inner Harbor site argue its merits on tourism dollars, not taste. Yet there are enough recent examples of new sites struggling for a foothold, from the handsome City Life Museum to the nationally praised Visionary Arts Museum, to debunk the myth that "if you build it, they will come." Other city attractions, including the Constellation and Harborplace itself, are reminders that upkeep alone is a major consideration. It certainly must be in the case of the Columbus statue, which looms slightly larger than the Statue of Liberty.

Transporting the statue and building a base will cost $20 million. It has taken a local group many years to raise $350,000 for a misplaced memorial to the 1940 Katyn massacre of Polish leaders, to rise near Inner Harbor East, even with support of the mayor and influential politicians. So why did Gov. Parris Glendening approve a $200,000 bond bill for that huge statue?

Baltimore has long been noted for its marble stoops, steamed crabs, painted screens and Formstone rowhouses. It's a quirky tableau, but at least it's our quirkiness. There's no need to import idiosyncrasies from Russia.

Pub Date: 5/12/97

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