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Artist takes issue with South Pointe ‘dog park’

When Miami Beach commissioned German artist Tobias Rehberger to design a $500,000 sculpture for South Pointe Park in 2010, he envisioned his Obstinate Lighthouse rising five stories above an open lawn, unobstructed on all sides.

In May, when he found out the City Commission made his sculpture the centerpiece of an off-leash area for dogs, he wrote to the city’s planning department complaining: “If the public art project was for a dog park I would not have considered the invitation.”

The city’s Art in Public Places Committee shared similar concerns, telling the City Commission last month that surrounding the off-leash area and sculpture with a planned landscape buffer would compromise the integrity of the artist’s intent and concept.

However, the city’s Design Review Board on Tuesday approved the landscaping plan 4-1, with Jason Hagopian dissenting, essentially plowing the way for 450 feet of landscaping on three sides of the lighthouse.

Megan Riley, chairwoman of the Art in Public Places Committee, warned the board that the off-leash dog area and landscaping buffer could put the city in violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act, a federal law that protects visual artists against distortion or destruction of their work.

Patricia Fuller, also on the committee, told the board that “the base of the sculpture is very integral to the sculpture.”

“In fact it’s not a base,” Fuller said. “It’s part of the sculpture. It’s an important part of the vista that you see and establishes the relationship between the verticality of the lighthouse and this open flat lawn area that [Rehberger] was asked to address.”

“We need to consider that if we want to work with major international artists and spend the money of the city wisely on important works of art for the collection, we need to respect the relationship that we have with the artist.”

The city’s planning department wrote in a staff report for the Design Review Board that “any form of perimeter landscaping material or additional park signage in this focal location … would distract from and have a significant adverse impact upon and detract from the design integrity of the lighthouse sculpture as well as its intended ‘open lawn’ setting.”

However, though assistant city manager Mark Taxis described the landscaping as a “physical barrier,” he said, “I don’t think [the landscaping] will have a detrimental affect on the viewing of that art piece.”

The buffer, not to exceed 42 inches in height, would consist primarily of muhly grass and spartina (or cordgrass), which are both native, and firecracker plants as accent.

The Design Review Board considered the landscaping buffer at the request of the City Commission due to safety concerns arising from dogs running out of the off-leash area and chasing passers-by.

Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Smith stressed to the board that the off-leash hours are limited, that leashed dogs are allowed in the park at any time the park is open, and that the area is not a “dog park” but rather an “off-leash dog area.” Smith said dogs can run leash-less in the area from sunrise to 10 a.m. seven days a week, and 6 to 9 p.m. on weekdays. He also mentioned it’s a pilot program that expires at the end of the year. The nearest dog park is two blocks away.

The planning department also wrote in the staff report that having off-leash dogs near the seating at the base of the sculpture “will almost certainly result in an unsanitary condition for park users, especially children and tourists.”

While the material near the base of the sculpture is treated for graffiti, it has not been treated for urine.

Dennis Leyva, coordinator for the Art in Public Places Committee, told the board, “We never considered, or the artist, urine protection.”

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