Letters for the week of February 26-March 4, 2003 

Friends in high places, and acquaintances in low ones; Some public art is high-minded while other works are low-rent.

"SHIRLEY SHE'LL RUN," 7 Days, 2/12

I have more friends than Chris Thompson admits
Chris Thompson made me sound negative about Mayor Tom Bates' selection of Margaret Kavanagh-Lynch as his appointment to the Landmarks Commission -- which I am not. I told Chris that "I had good experiences with Margaret Kavanagh-Lynch and I recommended that people should keep an open mind toward her."

I also did not make a generalization "that with his appointments, Bates is signaling his disinterest in neighborhood politics." What I said is that in respect to Bates' appointment to the Planning Commission -- his direction was different than mine in terms of balancing neighborhood interests vs. institutional and development interests. I continue to hope that Mayor Bates will be sensitive to neighborhood concerns.

Chris Thompson does the community a disservice to label as NIMBYs those like myself who attempt to address neighborhood concerns and who also support affordable housing and infill development projects. Both goals are possible and I strive to achieve them.

When Chris Thompson asked me who my friends were on the council, I gave several names -- he printed only one. Regardless of political differences, I have cordial working relationships with all the members of the city council.
Dona Spring, City Councilmember, Berkeley

"A GYROS WELCOME," 2/12

A gyros error
Jonathan Kauffman's restaurant reviews have always been good, inspired reading week after week. Most of the time, I've generally agreed with his critiques; sometimes I haven't. That's the nature of the beast. However, Kauffman's review of Athenian Deli provided a stunning example of what happens when a critic doesn't do his homework.

I work in downtown Oakland; I have eaten at Steve Zasdekis' restaurant for nearly ten years. His Greek-inspired foods are fresh, tremendously tasty, and his staff and service make it a delight to eat. Kauffman's assertion that the gyros meat is essentially "prefab" is an insult to Mr. Zasdekis' business. Nothing is further from the truth. Had Kauffman called the owner and asked him where he got his meat, he would have known that Zasdekis' meat is first-rate and fresh. His roast lamb is indeed fresh too; not "prefab," as Kauffman asserted. Kauffman is entitled to write a bad review; if he didn't like the deli, he can opine on such a matter. However, when he states patently false information and defames a solid business, that's wrong.
Rich Lieberman, Oakland

Editor's note
A return visit to the Athenian Deli confirms that its gyros meat is just as described by Jonathan Kauffman in his review. But as for the lamb, he was evidently served the wrong sandwich by mistake during his first visit. The lamb he received this week was fresh off the bone.

"MISADVENTURES OF A CARD SHARK," 1/29

I was his banker, and it was not pretty
I had the distinct displeasure to have tended to Kingsley Barham's business banking needs while a bank officer in San Francisco. If I were a potential investor (or even a potential ACQUAINTANCE), I'd pretend he had a restraining order against me -- I'd make sure I never got closer than fifty yards from him. And, if he treats his current checking account like he treated his in the 1990s, I'd never accept his check (just ask some of his payees who were knowingly left in the lurch). Do yourself a favor: Don't even think of this guy ever again.
John Schaff, Berkeley

"TOUCHING OUR PRIVATE PARTS," 1/29

Frank Moore certainly expanded my frame
I am sitting here at 5 a.m. reading this story about Frank Moore. I really appreciate how well-written it is. I personally don't see him as anything less than an extraordinary human being no matter what his physical abilities are or are not. I really needed to read about a guy like Frank right now. I loved the whole thing! He has so many philosophies that are true to the soul, and I needed to read that it is all right to stay true to the soul about this time in my life! My favorite parts were: his belief that fame stifles creativity, but that he feels he has a large audience without being famous, and the story about his life in poem, and how he boasts that "all in all life has been good!" That just made me laugh out loud.

I was not so sure that it was a good idea to say that he attracts "wounded searching souls"; although this may be their definition of themselves, perhaps it is better to say he attracts those desiring to be "real" in a world that doesn't promote real attitudes all the time. My frame was not only expanded by this story, it was validated.
Shauna Farris, Charleston, S.C.

"LET'S TAKE THE PUBLIC OUT OF PUBLIC ART," 1/22

A Dance to the Joy of Life
Your reviewer's lack of understanding of form and symbol is startling. As a public artist and muralist, I have no great love of art by committee or pleasing all passersby (great synergy does often happen on multimuralist projects, though). An answer to the question of what the Oakland City Center sculpture represents exactly is simple -- it represents the joy of life, dynamic movement ... it is a rather effective marker of center and since everything that lives strives for color, according to Goethe, the colors actually work in animating the plaza.

Also, some of the "cautious worriers" on artist selection panels happen to be working artists with their own stinking aesthetic.
Alan Leon, Oakland

You call that art?
Chris Thompson is right: Most of our public art is a mess. Here are two additional examples. The winged thing by Alexander Calder in front of the Berkeley (University) Art Museum on Bancroft is entitled "Hawk for Peace"; it was formerly titled "Boeing"! This from a pamphlet on outdoor art published by UC. Out here in benighted Richmond, a soi-disant Native American from some Southwestern tribe showed up and persuaded the city to support his efforts to carve a totem pole for public erection. He was given permission to use property of the parks and recreation office for his carving ... until I saw it. This horrendous and crude effort had nothing to do with the Northwest Coast totem poles, let alone with local Ohlone people, who never made such things. I was considering going up to Washington and getting a passel of Kwakiutls, Haidas, Tlingits, and others to do a protest march, but he has been removed from that space. God knows where he's chipping away now. Those who would like to view a more reputable example of public art should drive down to Stanford and look at Rodin's awesome "Burghers of Calais" to ponder both the magnificence of the art and of the act which inspired it.
Jeffrey M. Dickemann, Richmond

Don't blame me; I voted against it
Chris Thompson can't seem to focus on where exactly to direct his ire. You might think by the article's title that he's against public input in public art, but he sidetracks into a screed against abstract art in general, then lambastes corporate art, which is totally immune from public input. He ignores one of the truly successful and universally beloved examples of public art in Berkeley -- the Marin Circle fountain -- which was entirely a product of grass-roots public advocacy. I guess he just wants public art that he likes. Well, Chris, join the club. Unfortunately, no public art process can guarantee excellence, but we can and should expect that it at least open a door to the possibility.

As a current member of the Oakland Public Art Advisory Committee, I cast one of the minority dissent votes against Bruce Beasley's "Vitality." I have no enthusiasm for Beasley's work in general or that sculpture in particular, but I voted against it for procedural reasons, not because I disliked it. The three-year hiatus between Oakland's rescinding R.M. Fisher's fountain proposal and selecting Beasley's was not, as Thompson proposes, "three years of squabbling," but rather three years of neglect followed by a month's flurry of executive decisions short-circuiting our usual process of issuing a Request for Proposal/Qualifications. This was an important commission, and its controversial history should have required a truly open call for entries. It didn't.

Thompson's article is also misleading when he suggests that the Beasley commission bore the "sure-fire guarantee of mediocrity" because it "actually required the approval of City Council." For future reference, Chris, all public art commissioned by Oakland requires city council approval. At least give "Vitality" credit for rising to mediocrity on its own merits.
David Kelso, Oakland

Correction
In "Here Come the Sunbrothers" (February 12), we inadvertently misspelled the last name of artist Daniel Woodell, whose work was on display at Sunbrothers Studio.

Clarification
In last week's 7 Days ("Que Pasa?", February 19), we reported that West Oakland activist Margaret Gordon had sued the West Oakland Health Council and alleged that someone submitted the name of Martha Wilkerson-Walker, who was already dead, as a candidate for the council's board of directors. Gordon's attorneys have since discovered that Wilkerson-Walker is, in fact, alive. Guess this ain't Chicago after all.

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