When the City of Coral Gables bought two enormous flower sculptures by noted New York artist Alice Aycock to fill traffic circles on Segovia Street at Biltmore Way and Coral Way, city officials may have thought they were giving Gables residents and themselves a lovely bouquet to enjoy in the City Beautiful.
Not all residents share that view, and a petition drive has been started asking for the removal or relocation of the massive works of art.
The sculptures, which combine elements of passifloria (passionflower) with shiny metal poles and hardware suggesting futuristic or even alien technology, reportedly cost more than $1 million as an Art in Public Places project, and are part of the city’s Neighborhood Renaissance Program. Additionally, the National Endowment of the Arts gave grant funding of $40,000 and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden provided horticultural services worth $35,000. Approved by the city commission in 2014, the sculptures were installed in August.
City resident and business person Olga Ramudo decided to launch a petition drive after her early attempt to meet with the city about the art met with resistance.
“The first letter I sent to the mayor said that I did not object to the art itself, just that I did not think that it represented the City of Coral Gables and its Mediterranean history,” Ramudo said. “I also don’t like the location. It’s distracting to drivers. “What especially bothered me about the city’s response was that they don’t seem open to talk about it; they just seem to want to paint us as the bad guys and they told us to be more tolerant.”
Ramudo also echoed complaints from other residents who say they don’t feel as if there was sufficient public notice about the specific style of art and the cost to taxpayers. Ramudo said that she has more than a 1,000 emails from Gables residents who don’t like the sculptures. She added that Commissioner Jeannett Slesnik has been the most understanding of resident complaints.
John Davis, a longtime Coral Gables resident, joined the petition drive and is helping the effort to gather signatures with determination, standing for hours in public places like the Coral Gables Library during early voting. He also has been at the nearby War Memorial Youth Center, where adult sports classes are held, in an effort to get the word out, now that they have permission.
“Frank Rodriguez, our attorney, got approval to conduct the petition drive last week [Oct. 25],” Davis said. “I’m a Miami native; I’ve lived in the Gables two different times, at this particular residence for 20 years. I like art, okay? I just think that this particular piece has no place in the Gables where it’s at. It’s completely out of place.
“I think it’s a traffic hazard,” he added. ‘We have enough bad drivers as it is, and here it [the sculpture] is at a traffic circle. Half the people don’t know how to negotiate a traffic circle anyway, and they look at that thing and they’re lost. I’m surprised somebody hasn’t been run over yet.”
Davis said that while most petitions require only 10 percent of the registered voters to have the commission consider an ordinance about the art or to perhaps put it on the ballot in April during the election, the city is, in this case, requiring that 20 percent of the registered voters sign the petition, which amounts to more than 6,000 people, and with only the month of November to do it.
Gables resident Aida Balati decided to take part in the petition drive because of her views of how the sculptures fit in with the history of the city and their current location in the traffic circles.
“I got involved in this project, taking signatures from Coral Gables registered voters, because I just think the two sculptures are not suitable for Coral Gables,” Balati said. “One of them is extremely large and distracting, and the other one is very small for the roundabout and they don’t resemble or have anything to do with the city, despite people liking them or not, because to tell you the truth, most of the citizens of Coral Gables do not agree with the sculptures and do not like them.”
Fabio Alvino, whose business office is in Coral Gables, does speak well of the artwork. He published his views in an online forum on the topic at www.gablescentral.com/poll-million-dollar-flower-sculptures-alice-aycock-installed-coral-gables-love-hate-relocate/.
“I actually like it,” posted Alvino. “I believe it arises as a beautiful disruption in the middle of a uniform Mediterranean environment.
Exactly what is going on around the Mediterranean Europe: The antique and very much respected southern Europe architecture is now being intervened with modern art work.”
For information about the petition, call John Davis at 305-461-4009.