November 18, 2010

'Tracing the Fore': Panel votes to move artwork

The Art Committee's vote, which now goes to the City Council, follows attempts to completely scrap the piece.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - The Portland Public Art Committee voted Wednesday to recommend moving the controversial piece known as "Tracing the Fore" out of Boothby Square.

click image to enlarge

“Tracing the Fore” in Boothby Square has been controversial from the beginning. The grass chosen for the work required too much care and weeds have plagued the area.

2010 Press Herald file

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Shauna Gillies-Smith gestures during a discussion of her creation “Tracing the Fore” at Portland City Hall Wednesday. She said she understood the nature of the controversy over the artwork.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

The 7-3 vote followed an attempt to have the landscape art installation scrapped.

The final destination of "Tracing the Fore" remains to be determined. The committee considered two options Wednesday: city-owned land at Fish Point on the Eastern Promenade, and along the Fore River near Mercy Hospital.

Committee Chairman Jack Soley said a public hearing will be scheduled for discussion of those and other potential locations.

The committee's vote is a recommendation to the City Council, which has final authority.

The vote pleased property owners in and around Boothby Square who have complained that the landscape sculpture with stainless steel waves is dangerous, out of place and just plain ugly.

But Matthew Cardente, who led a petition drive this summer urging the committee to do something about it, said he is disappointed that it would cost city money to relocate it. "Tracing the Fore" has cost the city more than $135,000 since its installation in 2006. Soley estimated that it would cost another $8,000 to $15,000 to remove it, not including the cost of remaking Boothby Square after it is torn up.

"I'm glad they're removing it, but the decision to spend more money to relocate doesn't please me," Cardente said. "I'm not sure, based on the responses of people who live and work (around Boothby Square), that the committee understands our feelings. We should not be spending more money to relocate it."

"Tracing the Fore" has been controversial from the outset. The committee chose the design of Shauna Gillies-Smith of Cambridge, Mass., in 2004 after a national competition.

The goal was to find a piece to fill Boothby Square, and the committee endorsed Smith's design because it was mostly a natural approach to art -- sculpted waves seeded with tall-growing grass that would sweep up over stainless steel forms and represent the Fore River. The idea was to evoke the natural border of the Fore River, which once ran along Fore Street.

But the installation was not completed until 2007, and almost immediately it became clear that the grass chosen to represent the waves would require more care and cultivation than the committee or the artist had realized. As a result, it has been plagued by weeds and subject to widespread ridicule.

Gillies-Smith attended Wednesday's meeting at City Hall and thanked the committee for its efforts over the years. She said she understands that, by its nature, contemporary public art often is met with consternation by the public.

She said she believes that the single biggest issue with the piece is the invasive nature of the weeds, and that regular upkeep and maintenance could address many of the negative feelings.

"I am no champion of weeds (and) I completely understand the discouragement with the project," she said. "I would like the project to live. I understand people have different perspectives, and I am only representing my perspective."

She also told the committee that she would support its effort to move the piece. The art committee needs the endorsement of the artist if it decides to relocate any piece of public art.

"I am more open than less open to that idea if that is the direction you choose," she said.

Including Gillies-Smith, 14 people attended Wednesday's meeting. In addition to the artist, three spoke, including Cardente. All urged the committee to take the piece out of Boothby Square.

Shaun McCarthy, who owns the nearby Dock Fore restaurant and bar, said he supports the arts but doesn't like this piece. "It's almost become a laughingstock, unfortunately," he said.

Sonia Robertson, who owns Whip & Spoon with her husband, said "Tracing the Fore" has been problematic since its installation. "When that was installed, we looked at it and said, 'Why are we re-creating that which I can turn to my right to see in reality?'" She called it a "very harsh replication of reality" and asked the committee "to put it someplace else."

Before they voted to recommend moving the piece, committee members debated the pros and cons and attempting to rehab it with more attention from city crews or private landscapers. They agreed that such an option would be too costly.

City Councilor Dave Marshall, a member of the committee, spoke in favor of removing the piece permanently, saying that after four years of well-intentioned work, it's clear that it has failed.

His effort failed on a 7-3 vote.

Terry DeWan, a landscape architect, offered the motion to find a new location. "There must be a place out there," he said.


Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

Follow him on Twitter @pphbkeyes


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