Artist hopes nude work stimulates dialogue

July 30, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LOVELAND, Colo. -- In less than a month, thousands of artists from the United States and abroad will travel to this city in the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains for an annual sculpture show that has helped to cement Loveland's reputation as a creative haven.

This year, though, the event will take place in the shadow of a debate over a large bronze sculpture that some residents say is too erotic, and inappropriate for a public art installation.

The sculpture, titled Triangle, was created by Kirsten Kokkin, 54, a Norwegian-born and internationally acclaimed sculptor who moved here 20 years ago. Roughly 14 feet tall and 9 feet wide, Triangle depicts three nude figures - a man and a woman holding up another woman.

The work, for which the city paid just over $67,000, "is meant to symbolize unity and how we stay together to survive society," said Kokkin, a professor of sculpture at the University of Oslo. She has done 45 public installations, including a sculpture depicting a nude dancer in the Denver neighborhood of Cherry Creek.

"I tried to do something spiritual and uplifting," she said.

Among the residents who have been angered rather than uplifted by Triangle is the Rev. Kevin Klug, the pastor of Abiding Love Lutheran Church. The congregation plans to build a new church for its 160 members on the east side of Loveland, just west of the grassy plot in the middle of a traffic circle where Triangle was installed Friday.

Klug said he worried about what to say to his two children, ages 10 and 12, if they asked about the symbolism of Triangle.

"It's more graphic than it needed to be, and inappropriate regardless of whether our church was going in there or not," he said. "If you put it on a public street - if that's the way you've got to go to take your kids to drop them off at the recreation park or if you're going to the high school or coming to our church - you don't have a choice as to whether you go by it or not."

Two dozen residents petitioned the City Council recently to postpone the placement of Triangle, which joins about 280 other pieces of artwork in Loveland, including 102 sculptures in Benson Park.

Six of the park's sculptures are nudes, and there is another nude sculpture downtown.

Loveland, a city of about 50,000, started buying the works in 1985, when the City Council began allocating 1 percent of its annual construction budget to buy art for public spaces and appointed a seven-member Visual Arts Commission to decide how to spend the money.

In a statement about Triangle issued a week ago, the commission said it "recognized when the work was chosen" that it "had some potential for controversy," but it met two of the commission's goals: the "support of pre-eminent, local artists" and the placement of "large, monumental artwork at significant, high-profile gateway sites within city limits."

Suzanne Janssen, a liaison between Loveland's cultural services department and the commission, said that as part of the selection process the commission members considered the opinions of citizens at public forums.

Of the 20 people who attended the Triangle forum, three - all members of Abiding Love Lutheran Church - objected to the piece, Janssen said.

Melissa Morgan, who asked the City Council to put off the installation of Triangle, said that the commission had gone too far in its selection, and that she would have to find a new route to her children's schools and to the Mormon church her family attends. All are near the traffic circle with the sculpture she considers to be offending.

"It's a matter of where do we draw the line on morals," said Morgan, who has lived here for almost seven years. "And I don't think it's fair for a few people to decide what that is for all of Loveland."

"I don't think it should be anywhere in Loveland," she added.

Larry Dassow, a 30-year resident and a former City Council member, said of the sculpture: "It's not something I would want to go and take my kids or grandkids to see."

Heidi Christensen, a 26-year-old teacher who has lived in Loveland for five years, said she thought people were reacting to descriptions of the sculpture's nudity and would "feel better about it when they see it."

Kokkin, meanwhile, said she remained optimistic that, if nothing else, Triangle could stimulate dialogue among residents.

"I think that one can take a situation like this as an opportunity to try and build a bridge," she said. "To come to an understanding between, for example, art and religion and art and morality."

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