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Berkeley artist vows to move “Big People” somewhere that will appreciate his work

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Towering 2008 piece faces demolition due to maintenance costs

A blue sky highlights a massive reddish sculpture featuring characters protesting.
“Big People” installation.
Photo by Thomas Hawk

The artist who created “Big People,” a public art installation near Aquatic Park in Berkeley, has asked the city to halt demolition of the towering sculpture in order to give him time to find “other patrons who value and appreciate his work” and move the piece elsewhere.

East Bay Times reports that a lawyer for artist and politician Scott Donahue, who created to piece, sent a letter to the city of Berkeley last week requesting a six-month delay before removing the 11-year-old sculpture near Highway 80. The attorney argues that doing away with Donahue’s prominent work in such a way would “result in irreparable harm to my client’s reputation.”

Donahue accuses the the city government of nursing a grudge against his work, saying that if he had known they wanted to demolish the piece, he would have begun searching for a new venue sooner—hence his request for a half-year delay.

According to Donahue’s artist profile, “He has designed, fabricated and installed 25 permanent public art pieces in California and Colorado,” including “Big People” in 2008.

The twin 28-foot tall tableaus feature a combination of bronze, steel, concrete, and fiberglass. “The east side sculpture celebrates the city of Berkeley, and the west side celebrates the East Shore State Park,” notes Donahue.

The installation provoked instant criticism upon completion. San Francisco Chronicle Art Critic Kenneth Baker wrote that the scenes of boisterous protesters and kinetic hobbyists “invite mockery” and that the sculptor “fails every test.’

But the work has its defenders: At the dedication, the director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition called the installation “beautiful” and praised Donahue for emphasizing the appeal of outdoor environments.

Earlier this year, a series of Berkeley public bodies voted to remove the statues—not for aesthetic reasons, but because the city doesn’t want to pay for maintenance.

“The artwork is in poor condition due to the use of unsuitable materials, which has led to systemic material failure,” according to a report to the city by an LA-based art conservation firm.

The price to restore “Big People” could reach as high as $96,000, with additional annual costs of up to $31,000 per year for maintenance.

Not wanting to be on the hook for the titanic bill, the city’s elected bodies voted for removal.

Donahue insists that this is a conspiracy on account of the divisive nature of the piece.