Public art is always subject to debate and in San Diego, the preference tends to run on the less-than-sophisticated side. Statues of dolphins and fishermen will barely cause a ripple but anything remotely abstract will elicit cries of outrage. But there was one sculpture that, more than outrage, caused befuddlement along with a high-level of embarrassed chuckles.
It was an abstract bronze sculpture called Okeanos by artist William Tucker, and between 1988 and 2001, if you drove along North Torrey Pines Road in La Jolla you undoubtedly noticed this big, hulking 13-foot piece of, uh, art in front of Scripps Green Hospital. And if you worked or had business there, you couldn't miss it.
"Is it me, or does that thing look like a giant piece of crap?" I'm sure many people mused to themselves. And it literally was thought to be a piece of excrement. A giant turd, as the public often referred to it. Really.
Having the curling, burly artwork situated in front of a hospital, of all places, only punctuated its resemblance to the end result of one gigantic bowel movement. Although to some urologists at the facility, it had a more phallic stature. Obviously, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Truth be told, the sculpture was commissioned for $200,000 in 1987, with the money coming from donors, in honor of Frank J. Dixon, director of the institute for 25 years. Tucker named the artwork after the Greek god of rivers and oceans. Tucker said the form, to him, suggested a wave, and it was hailed by many critics when it was revealed.
Michael Brenson of The New York Times wrote of Okeanos in 1988, "The sculpture is a rippling curve that seems to spew out of the earth and curl up like a wave. It suggests not only water, but also clouds and vegetation and human limbs."
Alas, the public didn't feel the same way. Nor did one important person, as reported in the Union-Tribune in 2001:
It was philanthropist Edythe H. Scripps -- of the Scripps family whose name adorns the hospital -- who paid for the relocation, which cost $40,000. Scripps admittedly did not like Okeanos. She did not like it at all.
"I've been trying to get rid of that thing for years," Scripps said. "I'm certainly glad to see it go."
At the time, hospital officials said they needed to move "The Turd" to make room for renovations. General consensus was that they were tired of the derision the artwork generated.
So, in 2001, The Turd was flushed away, so to speak. But where did it go? Did a giant with a poop bag clean it up?
Actually, it was moved to a less conspicuous place on the east side of the Scripps Research Institute, on the corner of John Jay Hopkins Drive and General Atomics Court.
So, if you have that urge to view a moving piece of art, you can still find Okeanos. Just don't dismiss it as a piece of crap:-)