Pearl park sculpture strangled by red tape

Maya Lin rescinds project after artistic differences arise

How did an ambitious sculpture by Maya Lin, an internationally acclaimed artist and architect, slip through Portland's hands?

Lin's 'Playground,' a 40-foot-by-60-foot series of mogul-like bumps that would have been created from rubber, was destined for North Park Square. The park is set to be built next year in Portland's art Mecca, the Pearl District.

But after frustration with city planning and neighborhood committees, and creative differences with the park's designer, Lin, 43, pulled out of the project this week. For a neighborhood that prides itself on its sleek art galleries and urbane attitude, a missed chance at a Lin sculpture can be measured as a 7.0 quake in the Pearl.

'This is a big loss for Portland,'said Ed Cauduro, a member of the Pearl Arts Foundation's artist selection committee. 'Maya is in such great demand. She turns down 90 percent of the projects offered to her. She accepted this project at way below her normal fee.'

'Maya's never worked this hard on a project,' said Pearl Arts Foundation Director Paige Powell, who worked with Lin for three years on the idea. 'I think she's had it with everything here.

'She loved what the Pearl Arts Foundation is doing in Portland,' Powell added. 'She thought our work was maverick and future-thinking, and that this was not happening in other cities.'

Powell's group was ready to pay $380,000 for the work.

It's been a tough week for the arts foundation. On Wednesday night, the board of directors decided to dissolve the foundation as of Feb. 14.

What happened?

Lin and park co-designer Herbert Dreiseitl of Germany disagreed on whether 'Playground' would work in the new Pearl park.

Neither Lin of New York City nor Dreiseitl could be reached for comment.

Were Portlanders wowed by Lin's design? At a workshop last Saturday at the Pacific Northwest College of Art downtown, the Lin proposal met with some indifference and even hisses.

Dreiseitl invited the crowd Ñ Lin was not in attendance Ñ of about 200 people to draw proposals for the park and hang them on walls for all to see. One drawing indicated that Lin's sculpture should be placed 2 1/2 miles out of town. Several people in the room responded by clapping and laughing.

How did Lin's withdrawal unfold?

Dreiseitl maintains that Lin did not return his calls during a six-month period when he tried to talk with her about the park. But Lin's supporters at the Pearl Arts Foundation contend that Lin was willing to work with the designers all along.

Though 'Playground' originally measured 40 feet by 60 feet Ñ perhaps too big for the park Ñ Powell said that Lin was willing to scale it down if that would help Dreiseitl fit it into his design.

'Dreiseitl has worked with little spaces before,' Powell said. 'The issue wasn't that the park was 200 by 200 feet. Maya's sculpture would have only taken up one-eighth of that space. If he really wanted to work with her, he would have made it easier.'

Pearl District resident Neilson Abeel speculated that the conflict boiled down to the fact that Dreiseitl, not Lin, is the park designer. 'And that's where the authority lies,' he said.

Finally, after the German designer talked with Lin by telephone Monday, she said, 'No thanks,' Powell told supporters.

Powell said that Lin has a low tolerance for red tape. In fact, Lin often is quoted about her frustration with the public process that prolonged completion of her well-known project, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

'I'd rather she hadn't pulled out,' said Homer Williams, real estate developer and board member emeritus of the Pearl Arts Foundation. 'It's not often that you get someone of that caliber. But we have a public process here. It's public money and public space.'

The changing Pearl

As Northwest Portland's Pearl District transforms from its warehouse roots into an art haven, parks are part of the vision for the trendy area and have been on the drawing board for years.

With a budget of $2 million, North Park Square at Northwest 11th Avenue and Marshall Street is the second of three parks to be completed in the Pearl. The first, Jamison Square, opened last summer at Northwest 11th Avenue and Johnson Street.

North Park Square, a city block, is scheduled to open next year. The third park will take up two city blocks at Northwest 11th Avenue and Overton Street and is projected to open in five years. It will be designed for recreation and sports. All three parks are to be tied together by a boardwalk and each is to have its own personality: splashy (Jamison), contemplative (North Park Square) and recreational (the third planned park).

North Park Square, is being designed by Dreiseitl and Mike Abbate of the Portland landscape architecture firm GreenWorks. The proposed concept caused architect Dreiseitl to wonder if Lin's sculpture would fit in with the park's reflective focus.

Kathryn Krygier of the Portland Development Commission said a steering committee had decided that 'Playground' shouldn't go in North Park Square even before Lin backed out.

'It's 40 by 60 feet, and that's pretty big for a single park,' she said. 'The steering committee felt that the third (recreational) park (at 11th and Overton) would be more appropriate.'

Some Pearl residents hope Lin will reconsider and greenlight 'Playground' for the recreational park. According to Powell, there is still a possibility that Lin might be interested in placing the sculpture there. 'She just wants things to calm down,' Powell said.