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Flossmoor trustees deny commission’s recommendation to accept sculpture donation

The Village of Flossmoor will not be accepting the donation of Gunnar Theel’s Sculpture #9, citing safety concerns among others for going against the Public Art Commission’s recommendation to bring the work of art to Leavitt Park.

The village board voted unanimously the evening of Monday, Dec. 19, to deny a motion to accept the sculpture donation. The commission had recommended accepting the donation and adding it to Flossmoor’s permanent sculpture collection.

“He basically wanted to have it on public display and did not see it going to market,” said Jeff Stevenson, co-chairperson for the Public Art Commission.

Stevenson added that Theel’s pieces of similar scale have sold for $80,000 to $100,000. Sculpture #9 measures 6.75 feet tall by 10.66 feet wide by 15.16 feet long. And the commission had suggested it be installed in the grassy area of the sculpture garden at Leavitt Park, behind the Richard Hunt sculpture already there.

“What’s particularly attractive about this piece for the commission, beyond its artistic integrity and the artist’s exhibition record and collection record, is the material,” Stevenson added. “It’s made of Corten steel, which is very low-maintenance.”

But board members raised questions and concerns about the plan, starting with Mayor Michelle Nelson, who said she worried about the sharp corners on it that seem to be “at toddler height.” She said that was especially concerning as the garden is near a park that gets used a lot by youths. She also raised questions about the location and whether being placed behind Hunt’s sculpture would cause artistic issues related to giving the pieces enough space to breathe.

The design also looks somewhat like a tent, she added.

“It might invite some things that we don’t really want to invite into that space,” she said.

Stevenson noted some of those concerns came up in the commission’s discussion but that they could be addressed in part through landscaping.

“There is actually a natural barrier of some trees that wrap around Richard Hunt,” Stevenson said, adding that piece also has some sharp edges.

More landscaping with Sculpture #9 could help prevent “visual competition” between the two, while also creating something of a physical barrier that would at least discourage people from getting too close or climbing on the structure, Stevenson said. The Richard Hunt piece has ground cover that creates something of a “moat” to discourage people from walking up or getting onto it, he said. Stevenson added that the materials used in the sculptures are also different, making Sculpture #9 stand out without competing or distracting, helping to balance the collection in its design.

“It would be complementary, in my opinion,” Stevenson said.

But Trustee Rosalind Mustafa echoed some of the mayor’s concerns with Sculpture #9. She also said she worries it could create a barrier to sightlines, among other issues.

“I do see it as a safety concern because of the edges,” Mustafa said. “I see it as more of a cave-like opportunity than a gazebo, which is open, so I do have a concern about the fact that you could actually go into it.”

Stevenson said the commission’s idea was to face the open side toward the street to make it more visible to the public to discourage people from going into the sculpture. He said they also considered lighting to help address those concerns.

“I believe that the concerns are real about people interacting or using it in a way we wouldn’t want them to,” Stevenson said. “There was no report of that happening while it was in Chicago on display, and certainly there’s more opportunity and more population there to make those things happen.”

Trustee Gary Daggett asked if the commission had any discussion related to possible alternate locations for the sculpture. Stevenson said it was discussed but sightlines related to traffic prevented the commission from recommending it in other places.

“There weren’t a lot of options for something this size,” he said, outlining additional complications with other locations. “Of all of the sites we could perceive it being, this one seemed like the best.”

Daggett also raised concerns about the possibility of people slipping on the sculpture and getting hurt, as well as the village’s insurance for such risks.

“That’s my only concern with it,” Daggett said. “I think it’s a really cool piece. It would be hard to say no to it. My concern is the safety aspect of it.”

Stevenson said it is undoubtedly metal and has corners to it, but he did not think it posed any concerns beyond other pieces with corners in the collection.

“I think that it’s within the scope of what we’ve already been able to manage as a village,” he said. “Even if people engage with it in ways we don’t want them to, I don’t think it opens us up to any additional complexities around that than we already have.” 

Flossmoor trustees deny commission’s recommendation to accept sculpture donation

Bill Jones

The Village of Flossmoor will not be accepting the donation of Gunnar Theel’s Sculpture #9, citing safety concerns among others for going against the Public Art Commission’s recommendation to bring the work of art to Leavitt Park.

The village board voted unanimously the evening of Monday, Dec. 19, to deny a motion to accept the sculpture donation. The commission had recommended accepting the donation and adding it to Flossmoor’s permanent sculpture collection.

“He basically wanted to have it on public display and did not see it going to market,” said Jeff Stevenson, co-chairperson for the Public Art Commission.

Stevenson added that Theel’s pieces of similar scale have sold for $80,000 to $100,000. Sculpture #9 measures 6.75 feet tall by 10.66 feet wide by 15.16 feet long. And the commission had suggested it be installed in the grassy area of the sculpture garden at Leavitt Park, behind the Richard Hunt sculpture already there.

“What’s particularly attractive about this piece for the commission, beyond its artistic integrity and the artist’s exhibition record and collection record, is the material,” Stevenson added. “It’s made of Corten steel, which is very low-maintenance.”

But board members raised questions and concerns about the plan, starting with Mayor Michelle Nelson, who said she worried about the sharp corners on it that seem to be “at toddler height.” She said that was especially concerning as the garden is near a park that gets used a lot by youths. She also raised questions about the location and whether being placed behind Hunt’s sculpture would cause artistic issues related to giving the pieces enough space to breathe.

The design also looks somewhat like a tent, she added.

“It might invite some things that we don’t really want to invite into that space,” she said.

Stevenson noted some of those concerns came up in the commission’s discussion but that they could be addressed in part through landscaping.

“There is actually a natural barrier of some trees that wrap around Richard Hunt,” Stevenson said, adding that piece also has some sharp edges.

More landscaping with Sculpture #9 could help prevent “visual competition” between the two, while also creating something of a physical barrier that would at least discourage people from getting too close or climbing on the structure, Stevenson said. The Richard Hunt piece has ground cover that creates something of a “moat” to discourage people from walking up or getting onto it, he said. Stevenson added that the materials used in the sculptures are also different, making Sculpture #9 stand out without competing or distracting, helping to balance the collection in its design.

“It would be complementary, in my opinion,” Stevenson said.

But Trustee Rosalind Mustafa echoed some of the mayor’s concerns with Sculpture #9. She also said she worries it could create a barrier to sightlines, among other issues.

“I do see it as a safety concern because of the edges,” Mustafa said. “I see it as more of a cave-like opportunity than a gazebo, which is open, so I do have a concern about the fact that you could actually go into it.”

Stevenson said the commission’s idea was to face the open side toward the street to make it more visible to the public to discourage people from going into the sculpture. He said they also considered lighting to help address those concerns.

“I believe that the concerns are real about people interacting or using it in a way we wouldn’t want them to,” Stevenson said. “There was no report of that happening while it was in Chicago on display, and certainly there’s more opportunity and more population there to make those things happen.”

Trustee Gary Daggett asked if the commission had any discussion related to possible alternate locations for the sculpture. Stevenson said it was discussed but sightlines related to traffic prevented the commission from recommending it in other places.

“There weren’t a lot of options for something this size,” he said, outlining additional complications with other locations. “Of all of the sites we could perceive it being, this one seemed like the best.”

Daggett also raised concerns about the possibility of people slipping on the sculpture and getting hurt, as well as the village’s insurance for such risks.

“That’s my only concern with it,” Daggett said. “I think it’s a really cool piece. It would be hard to say no to it. My concern is the safety aspect of it.”

Stevenson said it is undoubtedly metal and has corners to it, but he did not think it posed any concerns beyond other pieces with corners in the collection.

“I think that it’s within the scope of what we’ve already been able to manage as a village,” he said. “Even if people engage with it in ways we don’t want them to, I don’t think it opens us up to any additional complexities around that than we already have.” 

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