PORTLAND — The artist who created the unpopular “Tracing the Fore” landscape sculpture in Boothby Square says she is interested in acquiring the piece if she can negotiate a fair price with the city.
Portland has decided to remove Shauna Gillies-Smith’s piece, which features stainless steel waves and rolling mounds of grass meant to evoke the Fore River.
Many business owners near Boothby Square have criticized the piece as ugly and out of place. Gillies-Smith complained that the city hasn’t properly maintained the grass portion of the sculpture, giving it an unkempt appearance and diminishing the effect she hoped to achieve.
“Tracing the Fore” was commissioned by the city’s Public Art Committee and installed more than five years ago at a cost of $135,000. Earlier this month, the City Council rejected a proposal by the committee to install it elsewhere, perhaps along the Fore River Parkway near Mercy Hospital. The move would have cost an estimated $30,000 to $50,000.
Councilor David Marshall, a member of the Public Art Committee, said the panel will meet today and is expected to remove “Tracing the Fore” from the city’s art collection. That will clear the way for its removal, he said, but the committee will still have to determine whether to offer it for sale to the public, sell it to Gillies-Smith or just sell the metal for scrap.
Gillies-Smith, who runs a landscape design firm in Somerville, Mass., said she would be open to buying the sculpture, depending on the cost.
“I definitely would rather it live somewhere else” than be scrapped, she said. “I do think it could work in other locations.”
Gillies-Smith, who supported relocating the piece at an art committee meeting in October, said she was disappointed that the council rejected the move.
“I don’t think it’s been given a fair shot at proper maintenance” that would have made the piece resemble her design, she said.
Maintaining the grass at the right height would have helped, she said. City officials complained that the grass Gillies-Smith chose wasn’t growing properly, and that the raised median where the sculpture was installed was becoming weed-infested.
Gillies-Smith said, however, that local landscapers told her the grass was becoming well-established. She said a proper maintenance program by an outside firm would have cost about $3,000 a year, and that she offered to underwrite one-third of the cost. The city rejected her offer, she said.
Although some criticized the design as too abstract, Gillies-Smith said most people understood what she was depicting.
“A lot of people did get it and did appreciate and understand it, but they didn’t have as wide a voice as the detractors,” she said. “I don’t think it was too out-there as a concept.”
Marshall, however, said many people in the city felt the finished piece didn’t come close enough to the design that Gillies-Smith presented the city.
“The city kind of begrudgingly accepted the piece into its collection,” he said. “The artist would say, ‘This is done,’ and the city was saying, ‘This wasn’t what we expected.’ “
The experience may lead the Public Art Committee to shy away from commissioning pieces in the future, and to acquire art that’s already produced, Marshall said.
“Going out and commissioning a piece is a lot more variable and involved than if you just purchase pre-existing works,” he said. “With pre-existing (art), you know what you have, so you take some of those variables out.”
Marshall said he expects the committee to decide what to do with “Tracing the Fore” in the next few weeks, and expects its removal by late spring or early summer. He said a landscaping firm has offered to donate the labor to turn the concrete structure that contains the sculpture into a flower garden.
“What I hear from the neighborhood people is, they just want the site to be simple and attractive,” he said.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]