NEW ORLEANS — When we last left “The Wave,” Lynda Benglis’s monumental bronze sculpture she created for the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans, it had just been rediscovered behind a disused sewer treatment plant in suburban Kenner, Louisiana. The work had apparently been placed “in storage” (unless it hadn’t) for almost three decades by someone who claimed to have bought it from the artist’s dealer after the fair closed and then apparently forgot about, and was facing an uncertain future while the artist, the Kenner city council, and the sculpture’s alleged owner — who somehow lost all the paperwork involving his $200,000 purchase at some point — decided what would happen to it next. (And if you think that sounds confusing, just try keeping track of the whole story as it was originally [and excellently] reported by the New Orleans Times-Picayune last year.)
This week, the Kenner city council will be meeting to decide whether to allow Benglis to repair and restore the sculpture at her own expense, and to create a mold so a duplicate can be made for display somewhere that is not Kenner. (You may be wondering why the council has seen fit to decide for itself whether to grant the artist permission to repair her own work. Let’s not forget that this is the same town whose former mayor, and the one who may or may not have given “The Wave”’s erstwhile owner permission to store the sculpture on municipal property at no charge for almost thirty years, was indicted in federal court on two felony counts of payroll fraud and is currently serving a 46 month prison sentence. So maybe an excess of caution was indeed in order here.)
Regardless of the council’s decision — at this point in the saga, nothing would be surprising — the fun part is already happening in the public opinion poll appended to the current update on NOLA.com, where the options include returning it to Benglis, returning it to its aforementioned owner, or selling it to generate income for the city — perhaps to offset the revenue lost via that payroll fraud.
Gratifyingly, though, the option with the most votes so far is for the city to “display it publicly for the enjoyment of all,” which is what probably should have happened in 1984 had that chain of peculiar circumstances not intervened. Aside from the municipality of Kenner itself, Benglis’s piece would find good company in the collection of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (she is a Lake Charles gal, after all) or the world-class environs of the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Despite the pseudonymous commenter who compares “The Wave” to “a river of snot,” there are more people down here who appreciate Benglis and her work than you might think.
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This is great news. In fact, while working on an essay, I tried to track down the whereabouts of a water-based figural sculpture created by Finnish environmental artist Olavi Lanu for the ’84 NOLA World’s Fair, which was his only public installation in the U.S. installation. It didn’t go back to Finland, and Lanu’s records indicated it was with the New Orleans Museum of Art. But numerous phone calls and emails got me nowhere. If anyone has an idea, please let me know…
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