If you thought setbacks to the West Hollywood’s AIDS Monument were bad, they’re nothing compared to the major backlash the Palm Springs AIDS Memorial Sculpture received earlier this month after residents had a first glimpse of the renderings of the proposed nine-foot limestone sculpture, which was to be installed in a park within the California desert city’s downtown. Critics immediately went to social media to compare the donut shaped memorial to a giant anus.
The sculpture is the work of respected Palm Springs artist Phillip K. Smith III. If the name sounds familiar to you, it’s because he’s the man behind West Hollywood’s Parallel Perpendicular artwork at West Hollywood Park. The permanent public artwork of five free standing mirrored volumes composed of parallel and perpendicular planes that hover above a 40-foot diameter circle of green landscaping has been a hit with residents and visitors. By day, these forms reflect the park visitors and environment as well as the surrounding West Hollywood views. By night, the mirrored surfaces illuminate to become pure fields of color that slowly move through a custom color choreography. These colors reflect off each other, merging upon colors creating new spaces of color.
Smith clearly went in a different direction for the Palm Springs AIDS Memorial Sculpture. “The opening at the center is at eye level and allows a view through,” Smith said, “[offering] a connection, a sense of hope, a view beyond what is directly in front of you.”
The bad press comparing the lumpy circle with a hole in the center to a person’s nether region has scrapped the renderings, so it’s back to the old drawing board for Mr. Smith III, at least for the offensive side of the sculpture.
The Palm Springs AIDS Memorial describes the sculpture has having two sides.
There is the Community “face,” composed of a series of varied concentric carved circles that are smooth, flat, angular, matte, satin, and gloss, evokes the quilt of humanity that is touched by AIDS. Extending across this varied topography is a series of precise, matte, carved lines representing the “aberration” in the community fabric that has bonded us together.
Then there is the “individual” face which is conceived as a series of smooth undulating “fins,” like water lifting. These fins are a metaphor for grief, love, hope, and time. The form of the artwork itself has a concave and convex flex to it as the community face seems to outstretch and envelope the viewer, while the individual face seems to extend outward at the center towards the viewer.
It’s the Individual face that’s behind the controversy, so to speak. That’s the side that’s being redesigned.
According to psaidsmemorial.org, a revised design is coming soon.