City Council Meeting: March 20, 2012

Agenda Item: 8A  

To:                   Mayor and City Council 

From:              Karen Ginsberg, Director, Community and Cultural Services

                        David Martin, Director, Planning and Community Development


Subject:          Consideration of Chain Reaction Sculpture by Paul Conrad


Recommended Action

Staff recommends that the City Council:

1)    Approve the removal of the sculpture Chain Reaction by Paul Conrad after six months if private fundraising for repair and restoration is not successful.

2)    Authorize staff to complete all necessary testing.

3)    Appropriate the budget increases outlined in the Financial Impacts and Budget Actions section of this report. 


Executive Summary

The sculpture, installed in 1991, is in need of major conservation work and its structural integrity appears compromised.  Given the estimated costs of repair and conservation, which range from $227,372 to $423,172, staff recommends that City Council approve removal of the sculpture, with the understanding that this action would be delayed until six months from the completion of all necessary testing, to allow for private fundraising for restoration and repair.  If this action is approved, and private funding is not secured, the work would be offered first to the artist’s family and heirs and/or to any arts institution of their choosing.  It would also be thoroughly documented for historic purposes.  Removal of the artwork would cost $20,000.  If the Council chooses to pursue restoration and repair, funds in the amount of $423,200 would need to be appropriated.



Chain Reaction, by Paul Conrad, was a gift to the City that was approved by City Council on October 9, 1990 after extensive public process and debate.  The work was originally offered to the City in 1988, and was not site specific in the sense that the artist offered it to other cities as well.  The acquisition was reviewed by a panel of three prominent artists who recommended support of the acquisition to the Arts Commission, although one of the panelists expressed substantial concerns regarding the artistic merit of the work.  In order to gain public input, a model of the piece was displayed in the lobby of City Hall from July through October of 1989.  Of those surveyed, 730 citizens recommended against the City accepting the sculpture and 392 citizens favored its acceptance.  The Arts Commission voted three separate times over the course of the entire review process, each time to accept the gift.
The work was funded by a private donation to the Santa Monica Arts Foundation of $250,000.  The gift is covered by an agreement with the artist which provides that the work can be relocated, removed and or destroyed at the discretion of the City.  


The staff report that originally presented the sculpture for consideration states that the work will be made of bronze, which would require little or no maintenance.  However, as actually fabricated, the sculpture is made of copper tubing over a fiberglass core with an internal frame of stainless steel.  These materials, while durable, do not have the same permanence in an outdoor setting as cast bronze.  The agreement with the artist calls for a complete set of ‘as-built’ drawings to be provided to the City, however these drawings were never provided.


This past summer, the City’s Building Official observed members of the public, including children, climbing and interacting with the sculpture and was prompted to complete a preliminary evaluation of its safety.  The structural integrity of the work could not be ascertained based solely on visual observation; however a number of issues of concern due to the deteriorating condition of the sculpture were observed.  Many fasteners that attach the copper tubing chain to the fiberglass core were missing or not fully imbedded and some exhibit severe corrosion.  An interdepartmental team of City staff met to review these findings and in the interest of public safety decided to fence off and preclude access to the sculpture while additional research and analysis were performed. 



Consulting Team

The City assembled a professional team to assist in the assessment of Chain Reaction to determine the state of its structural integrity.  The team included structural engineer Larry Brugger, Twining Testing Laboratory, and Rosa Lowinger and Associates.  Mr. Brugger is a registered Structural Engineer and former building official for the City of Long Beach.  Twining Laboratory is well known for their quality control work with material testing and material standards.  Ms. Lowinger is widely respected for her conservation work and oversees the sculpture conservation treatment programs for several major art collections including the Broad Art Foundation, the Huntington Library and Garden, and the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden at the University of California, Los Angeles.  The team worked to insure that minimal damage was done to the sculpture while assessing its structural integrity. 


Preliminary Research

The team contacted the original structural engineer for the project, and both fabricators involved in building the work, in order to gather as much detail as possible.  While archive research and discussion with the original fabrication team provided comprehensive background information, no records were found to confirm that the sculpture received review from the City’s Building and Safety Division or that a building permit was issued.  Without a valid permit on file, it could not be confirmed that inspection of critical elements of the sculpture occurred.  Further, discussion with the original structural engineer of record revealed that his drawings and calculations were only conceptual and the final fabrication deviated from his engineered design.  Without confirmation of an approved design and fabrication methodology, staff determined testing key elements of the sculpture was necessary.


Initial Assessment and Findings

The initial examination consisted of a visual inspection of the internal armature to detect any corrosion as well as lab testing of fiberglass and concrete samples along with sample chain-links and fasteners that attach the chains to the fiberglass shell of the sculpture.  Prior to the examination, conservators carefully documented and catalogued the chain-links in the selected sample areas, then carefully cut out samples as well as the area designated as the entry point for the internal inspection.


Laboratory tests were performed on samples of the fiberglass shell for structural integrity and effects due to exposure to the elements.  Although the results do not cause immediate concern, the results are inconclusive as the samples revealed varying thicknesses of fiberglass, likely due to manual application of the fiberglass layers.  Furthermore it is not known how ultra-violet rays and precipitation have affected the top of the sculpture, the area of the sculpture that is the most vulnerable.  Therefore additional samples must be extracted from key areas at the top of the sculpture.


The copper chain links were tested to determine strength and failure thresholds.  The results were favorable in confirming that the welded seams would not fail under nominal pressure.  The tests also revealed that substantial force would be required to pull a copper link from its mounting on the fiberglass shell.  Details from both tests are in the attached report from the testing lab (attachment C.)


Visual inspection of the sculpture’s internal steel frame revealed corrosion and rust levels at various stages of debilitation.  The area that exhibited the greatest concern was at the base of the main steel structure, particularly anchor bolts and nuts that secure the entire sculpture to the foundation.  Other areas that exhibited corrosive damage were the structural connections for the stainless steel square tubes which form the shape of the sculpture, and at the wire mesh which allows adhesion of the fiberglass finish.


The welded connections of the steel members at the base of the sculpture were x-rayed to determine possible damage and to assess their structural integrity.  Results of this radiography test did not reveal concerns regarding the welded connections in the area examined, however, testing of the welded connections at the top of the sculpture is still necessary.

In determining the suitability of the sculpture’s structural concrete foundation, it was necessary to extract samples of the foundation.  Core samples were extracted in two areas where the compressive strength of the concrete foundation would be determined.  Although the tests confirmed concrete with high-strength aggregate, the results cannot be considered conclusive as calculated analysis is necessary to determine final suitability.  The calculated analysis would consider the weight of the sculpture, bearing pressure of the soil and lateral forces due to wind and seismic activity.  These figures would then be compared against the strength of the concrete.  This analysis is typically done during the design stage of any structure and is a requirement of building codes and the permitting process.  There is no record of it having been completed for the sculpture.


Next Steps

To fully ascertain the sculpture’s structural stability, the following additional tests would need to be performed:

1)    Testing of fiberglass samples at the apex of the sculpture as this area has experienced the greatest exposure to the elements.

2)    Further visual inspection of metal framing elements to determine the extent of corrosive effects.  Inspection is necessary within the upper or “mushroom cloud” portion of the sculpture and at the connection of the cloud to the stem of the sculpture.

3)    Further radiography analysis of the welded connections at the top of the sculpture in key areas.  The key areas include framing members within the “mushroom cloud” and critically, at the connection of the cloud and stem of the sculpture.

4)    Extraction of an anchor bolt and nut at the base of the sculpture to determine anchor bolt suitability and effects of corrosion.

5)    Calculated structural analysis of the  base, stem, cloud and respective structural connections at each area to estimate the weight of the sculpture, its ability to withstand wind and seismic effects; the suitability of the main steel frame, connective square tube members, and the concrete foundation; as well as integrity of the fiberglass with connective chain links.   Many of these tests are invasive and would further damage the work.  Depending on test findings of both the structural engineering team and the conservation team, the City would then need to proceed with repairs, if feasible, to ensure the structural integrity of the work, and then conservation to address the work’s aesthetic integrity.


Estimated Costs

To date the City has spent $20,715 on the initial assessment work, $7,255 paid to Rosa Lowinger Associates for a conservation assessment and testing assistance, and $13,460 for the structural engineering report and initial testing.  Estimated costs associated with further testing, repair and restoration of Chain Reaction by necessity cover a range, with the exception of the actual testing costs.  This is primarily due to the fact that at this point in time all of the required tests have not been completed as City staff did not wish to commit additional funds without Council approval.  The following estimates therefore include a range of likely possibilities depending on the most probable outcomes of the tests. 


Low Estimate

High Estimate

Initial Assessment



Sub-total to date



Additional testing












Contingency 10%







In addition to testing, repair and conservation, it is recommended that if the City chooses to retain the sculpture at the site, a landscaped barrier (as noted in the estimate above) be put in place to limit public access to the work, particularly climbing by children.  While landscaping alone would not completely preclude access to the sculpture, it could be designed in such a way as to limit access.


Rebuilding and Longevity

The issue of the cost of the repair and conservation is complicated by the fact that the core of the sculpture is fiberglass with an unknown life expectancy in terms of its structural stability.  So that even if the City were to invest in the testing, repair and conservation of the work, it is likely that in the next ten to twenty years the work would again present a risk due to the aging of the fiberglass core that supports the copper chain link system.  Further, if the City were to attempt to address this issue at this time and consider completely rebuilding the work from the inside out, replacing the fiberglass in some way to be determined, not only would the costs increase, but the work would become essentially false.  The artist is not available to participate in the design and rebuilding of the work, in particular the laying of the chains that finish the piece, an aspect of the work on which Paul Conrad spent a great deal of time.


Significance and Precedence

Paul Conrad, the artist who created Chain Reaction, was a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist who achieved world renown and acclaim for his political cartoons.  He also created a number of sculptures, primarily small scale bronze busts of political figures that resembled his caricatures.  However, his primary focus was not monumental sculpture and Chain Reaction may have been the only monumental work of art that he created.  As such, the artist lacked familiarity with the many considerations surrounding the fabrication of public art so that it can successfully withstand constant exposure to the elements and the public.  When the work was installed, many in the art world felt that the sculpture was more successful as a political statement than as a work of art, although others heralded its significance.  Additionally, as previously stated, Santa Monicans were extremely divided regarding the initial acceptance of the work.


While the City has an obligation to care for the works in its collection for future generations, it also has an obligation to carefully weigh major expenditures.  It appears at this point in time that the work was not constructed in such a way as to ensure its structural stability over the long term, or beyond 20 to 25 years, without significant investment and repairs.  To put the potential cost of these repairs in perspective, City Council allocated $100,000 in one-time funds in 2008 to assist with major conservation needs for the City’s collection.  The funds were used to repair three works: Big Wave, by Tony deLap, which is also 20 years old; the installation by Michael Davis in the Public Safety Facility; and the work by Mauro Staccioli located at the intersection of Pico Blvd and Ocean Ave.  Initial estimates for Chain Reaction range from almost double to close to three times that amount.  With limited funds available such an investment, possibly more than the original cost of the sculpture, seems disproportionate, particularly to remedy inherent flaws with the design and construction of the work.  While private sector fundraising can always be seen as an option, the Cultural Affairs Division does not have the staff time to allocate for such fundraising in a year when there is major fundraising required for Glow.


Commission Action

The City has clear policies regarding how to handle art in the case of deterioration and issues of public safety.  This process requires review by a conservator and development of recommendations for the Arts Commission based on the conservator’s findings regarding the status of the work.  Further, no work may be considered for deaccession prior to five years following its initial acceptance.  Chain Reaction has been on display for 21 years. 


In addition the policy calls for notifying the artist or heirs of the situation.  City staff met with Mr. Conrad’s son, David Conrad, on August 18, 2011 to inform him of the initial assessment work and to ask for any details the family might have regarding the fabrication of the sculpture.  City staff further notified Mr. Conrad of the staff recommendation to the Arts Commission and to City Council to consider removal of the work in late January.  Mr. Conrad has indicated the family’s desire to see the work remain at its current location and his willingness to work with the community to raise funds to repair and restore the work.


The Santa Monica Arts Commission held a special hearing on February 1, 2012 to hear public testimony and consider the status of Chain Reaction.  They considered the findings to date along with the City’s deaccession policy which outlines when a work may be removed from public display.  The Arts Commission voted 10 to 1 in support of the staff recommendation of deaccession and removal of the sculpture.  The Commission also voted to recommend that such action be delayed by six months to allow the family and community supporters of Chain Reaction a period of time to raise the funds necessary to repair the work.  Staff supports this recommendation and, if approved by Council, will delay the removal until September 20, 2012.



There are a number of alternatives City Council might choose to pursue:

Alternative 1: In lieu of removal, City Council could appropriate the funds, in an amount not to exceed $423,200 (equal to the high estimate plus a 10% contingency), to continue to pursue the repair and restoration of the Paul Conrad sculpture.

Alternative 2: The City Council could appropriate the funds, in an amount not to exceed $423,200 (equal to the high estimate plus a 10% contingency) plus relocation and moving costs, and direct staff to pursue an alternate location in Santa Monica where the work is less accessible to the public.


Public Outreach

City staff have kept the public informed of the status of the work though regular press releases and through updates to the Santa Monica Arts Commission.  There have been a number of articles in the local press and in the Los Angeles Times.  In addition, a group of concerned citizens developed a petition to preserve the sculpture and collected numerous signatures in support of retaining the work.

Financial Impacts & Budget Actions

If City Council were to support the staff recommendation to complete additional testing and approve the removal of the sculpture in six months if private fundraising is not successful, funds in the amount of $41,000 are available in the FY 2011/13 Community and Cultural Services Department Budget. The costs associated with this recommendation will be charged to 01560.555060.


Should staff be directed to pursue either  Alternative 1 (repair and restoration) or Alternative 2 (repair, restoration, relocation), Council action would be required to appropriate funding in an amount not to exceed $423,200 to account C010081.589000 for the repair and restoration of the sculpture.  Additionally, in the case of Alternative 2 staff would need to be directed to return to Council at a later date with the additional amount needed to cover relocation costs which are not currently known.

Prepared by: Jessica Cusick, Cultural Affairs Manager

                         Ron Takiguchi, PE, Building Official




Forwarded to Council:







Karen Ginsberg

Director, Community and Cultural Services




David Martin

Director, Planning and Community Development



Rod Gould

City Manager



A.   Preliminary report from Conservator Rosa Lowinger

B.   Preliminary Assessment Report from Structural Engineering Consultant, Larry Brugger, S.E.

C.   Twining Testing Laboratory, Investigation and Material Testing Report