Sculpture Money Goes Down the Drain

Cursed Sculpture Costs City Big Bucks

Water Forest sculpture

Public Art collections across the country reflect this sad fact: some people cannot just appreciate art. They are intent on damaging it.

When sculptures are interactive and fun it can sometimes be a fine line between “interacting” and “vandalizing” … or maybe not such a fine line.

In the case of this Tacoma sculpture, Water Forest, the city has already spent almost as much to repair the work as the original purchase price.

As artists, we want to see sculpture in public places. And seeing a variety of sculpture is important to us, to the public, and to those creating a collection or hoping for a unique identity. Who would want to see the same sorts of works everywhere they go?

For years, the Water Forest sculpture outside Tacoma’s Museum of Glass has proved too hard for vandals to resist and too fragile for the general public to handle.

The interactive sculpture, installed in 2002 at a cost of $208,000, was damaged when it was only two months old. It took seven years and $120,000 to fix it.

The city spent another $25,000 between 2009 and 2014 to strengthen it and try to keep it running.

Now it’s banged up again and might be removed from the plaza permanently. [emphasis ours]

Last month, two of the 20 water-flowing tubes were bent and their base connections damaged in what the city believes was another case of vandalism.

The piece, created by Rhode Island artist Howard Ben Tré, was installed for the museum’s grand opening. It marked the return of Tacoma’s publicly funded art program after it was repealed in the 1980s.

With its bronze patina and water-filled acrylic tubes, the sculpture simultaneously imbues a spirit of the area’s industrial marine history and the natural lunar forces of the tides.

It comes into view to pedestrians who descend the grand staircase at the entrance to the museum facing the Foss Waterway.

About 40 feet in diameter, the sculpture comprises 20 acrylic and bronze tubes, each measuring 10 feet tall, that light up at night. The 12 tubes on the outside and eight on the inside form concentric circles with a circular granite bench in the middle.

When it works, the piece creates a space for people to hang out on the waterfront on sunny days and cool off in the wet ambiance.

Seawater, driven by the ebb and flow of Commencement Bay, is pumped into the sculpture by a series of pumps, filling the tubes until they overflow.

“It’s good to have a piece of public art at the museum’s arrival point. It’s the first thing the public sees,” Ryan said. “We want it to be the best it can be.”

Hopefully Tacoma residents and visitors will be able to continue to see and appreciate this piece that so connects the elements of this city in the Pacific Northwest.

Thanks to David Anderson, Staff writer at The News Tribune for this story. Read it in full here.

Photo: Drew Perine, News Tribune file photo