Thursday, August 02, 2007

Surfer Statue Controversy in San Diego County

Surf statue immersed in swell of controversy
July 30, 2007

by Logan Jenkins

Good thing Michelangelo didn't shape bronze boys riding waves on North County's reef breaks.

He might have been tarred, feathered and run out of town on the rails of a surfboard.

All right, I kid. A little.

To be honest, the blowback over Cardiff-by-the-Sea's destined-to-be-iconic surfing statue, located in a recess on the west side of South Coast Highway 101 at Chesterfield Drive, has not boiled into overt violence.

But the reception has been choppy at best, emotionally wiping out the artist whose self-confidence evidently isn't fashioned out of brass.

“He's destroyed by the criticism,” said Mike Clark, chairman of the Cardiff Botanical Society, which commissioned and mostly paid for the extremely public piece of art unveiled eight days ago.

As you can tell by the photograph, Matthew Antichevich's “Magic Carpet Ride” is not your archetypal image of the heroic waterman or the post-modern wave shredder.

This statue of a male surfer doesn't even look . . . manly.

“It does have a feminine quality,” Clark conceded.

In fact, a hyper-critical mass of critics views the statue as uncomfortably homoerotic.

“It is MY OPINION that this statue fails on several levels,” wrote J.P. St. Pierre, a surfer who runs Leucadia Blog, a site that served as a busy wailing board for offended surfers.

“One, it does not represent surfers or surf culture well. Second, to me the statue is extremely creepy if it is indeed a teenage boy.”

Public art is controversial; if it's not, it's decoration.

Up the coast in Carlsbad, an installation titled “Split Pavilions” caused such an outcry in the 1990s it was demolished in January 1999 after a public vote.

What cost $20,000 to create cost $500,000 to erase.

This won't be the fate of “Magic Carpet Ride,” no matter how much surfers rip its spirit.

One thing critics can't say is that the artist doesn't have saltwater in his veins.

Though he lives in Hemet, where he works with well-known sculptor Max DeMoss, Antichevich, 55, has said he is a lifelong surfer with a deep appreciation for the athleticism the sport demands and the spirituality it engenders.

He also has studied sculpture at the Florence Academy of Art, home of Michelangelo's “David,” itself an object of prurient speculation in some circles.

The Cardiff statue is Antichevich's maiden run as a public artist. His small statues are sold at the Trios Gallery in Solana Beach.

Antichevich originally wanted to create a female surfer, Clark told me. But the society opted for “an everyday guy” who surfs the Cardiff reef.

Perhaps in the transition from female to male the statue developed its somewhat ambiguous sexuality.

To my eye, the surfer looks like a classical ocean sprite riding a wave of granite, kicking up brass foam.

Encinitas Councilman Jerome Stocks, a surfer himself, told me that the statue represents a boy learning an incredibly difficult sport that he compared with snow skiing – without attached boots on a mountain that moves.

In reported comments, however, Antichevich stressed that the statue's pose is, in fact, a rendering of an expert surfing move.

Therein lies the creative tension, if you will.

Cardiff's totemic surfer – is he/she (or is he/she not) a bit of a dork?

If this statue survives the test of time, it always will have a bit of a lilt to it.

It's sort of like “The Little Mermaid” in Copenhagen, Denmark, as a sweet, innocent celebration of rough-water swimming.

Understandably, hardcore surfers crave a heroic self-image – Rob Machado or Brad Gerlach knifing through waves like a martial art.

What they got was a bit of a kook striking a pose that would make him the butt of ribald jokes in the lineup.

“I'm at total peace with what's happening,” said Clark, who added that the statue was generally well-received in Cardiff.

In a mischievous moment, Clark asked me if I had ever seen photographs of the famous statue of Duke Kahanamoku on Waikiki Beach on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

I think so, I said.

Doesn't it strike you as a little effeminate with its upraised arms, he asked.

Last week, I was standing by the Cardiff statue.

A middle-aged couple were power-walking along the west side of 101, their heads following my line of vision to the sculpture and its daintily outstretched arms.

“What do you think?” I asked.

The man took out his iPod earbuds, paused, and with absolute conviction pronounced the final word of judgment:


1 comment:

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