Palo Alto's famous circuit-board egg sculpture, "Digital DNA," may soon receive a major facelift -- and it won't be cheap.
The iconic Lytton Plaza landmark, which had originally cost the city $9,950, would cost over $80,000 to restore, the city's Public Arts Commission learned Thursday evening (Dec.15).
"The egg keeps coming back to us for some reason. It's had many rebirths, shall we say," commission Chair Ally Richter said.
In a proposal addressed to the commission, artist Adriana Varella called for complete and urgent restoration of the sculpture based on continued exposure to the sun, rain and human touch. Producer Alex Lage of Ringo Films would sponsor the entire refurbishment process, which would cost $82,400 -- more than eight times the sculpture's original price. In return, Lage asked for a plaque recognizing Ringo Films' support.
In the proposal, Lage and his production team they said they would deposit the money into the art commission's budget for the commission to manage.
The budget laid out everything from Varella and Lage's airfare and accommodations, the hiring of helpers, an art studio rental for restoration and new circuit boards to cover the entire structure, to the transportation and the public "re-hatching" of the sculpture as well as funds for an online broadcast of the one-month restoration process.
Digital DNA, one of Palo Alto's most popular sculptures, has had a rocky history since the city commissioned it in 2000. Six months into its creation, the artist's neighbor mistakenly threw the egg away. Then when the egg was almost ready to be installed, a fire swept through the warehouse where the sculpture was stored, completely destroying the piece. Varella and her husband Nilton Malz scrambled to rebuild the egg from scratch before installing it in 2005.
Former Mayor Le Levy and developer Roxy Rapp, who advocated for a complete redesign of Lytton Plaza with a large fountain and a giant chess set as the centerpiece, protested Digital DNA's final installation.
The commission has supported multiple restorations of the sculpture in the past, paying to replace circuit boards and recoat the egg in protective resin. In 2010, the commission doubled the maintenance budget for the sculpture and denied the artist's request to "gold plate" the egg.
"I have all kind of 'jitteries' about this particular project," Richter said. "We just spent $8,000 refurbishing this when originally it was only supposed to be $4,000.
"I don't want to have an issue with this piece every two to three years if we are spending this kind of money, so I'm a little apprehensive about the budget," Richter said.
Elise DeMarzo, the staff liaison to the commission, has been in contact with Varella about the proposed restoration.
She said the artist wants to take the time to re-do the sculpture properly.
"Previously she had to work on it in a parking stall in a parking lot, so I think her vision is that this budget would give her the ability to work in a climate-controlled studio, using all the material she wants," DeMarzo said.
DeMarzo, who spoke on behalf of the artist, said Varella would use a "more hearty" resin this time.
Richter and other commissioners also discussed asking Varella to completely re-do the piece or moving it to a safer location.
"Why don't we have her just make another egg, if she is going to give over $82,000?" Richter asked. "And just move the new one to a more protected location."
When the city questioned the sculpture's location in 2005, a group of young anarchists protested saying the egg represented the plaza as a "place for the people."
The commissioners agreed they would rather keep the sculpture where it is than have to move it.
"We all like the piece, and we want to see it stay," Commissioner Trish Collins said. "It represents Palo Alto's birthplace of Silicon Valley."
However, the commission decided not to take any further action before they have more concrete information about the budget and a direct breakdown of funds.
"We need to make sure we will get what we originally paid for. We need to ask her some hard questions.
"Because if its $82,400, two years from now I don't want to have to see us pay $15,000 just to give the egg a new shell," Richter said.
DeMarzo said she plans to communicate with the artist to ask her for a more detailed report and discuss her findings at the commission's next meeting on Feb. 16, 2012.