Digital DNA, the 7-foot-tall, egg-shaped sculpture made partly of computer circuit boards currently installed in Lytton Plaza, has been recommended for deaccession (removal from the city's public art collection), leaving artist Adriana Varella scrambling for a way to save the work.
Digital DNA has suffered damange over the years. Due to the materials used and the sculpture's exposure to the elements, city staff have determined the costs of keeping the piece in good condition in Lytton Plaza are too high.
"We are faced with either undertaking another major overhaul of the piece, or deaccessioning it. If we do a major restoration (which we have done several before), we will likely see the piece in the same state of disrepair in a very short time," Palo Alto Public Art Program Director Elise DeMarzo wrote in an email to the Weekly.
Varella said she is preparing to launch a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for the costs of restoration as well as a possible lawsuit against the city, "with the intention that the piece is preserved and a permanent solution for its existence is found," she wrote in a press release.
Digital DNA was designed to celebrate Palo Alto's role as the birthplace of Silicon Valley.
"It is a piece about the ideology of technology and it was made collectively by dozens of people who helped me understand what were the ideologies behind the technology we use," Varella said.
The piece has a troubled history, as noted in the city's deaccession report. Originally commissioned in 2000, the materials for the sculpture were mistaken for junk by a neighbor and thrown away; the installation faced delays due to the redesign of Lytton Plaza; and the sculpture's first iteration was destroyed in a warehouse fire. The Public Art Commission funded a second version in 2004, which was installed in the plaza the following year, where it became a target of vandalism. Restoration work was carried out prior to the reopening of the redesigned plaza in 2009.
According to the report, the city originally commissioned the piece for $9,950 and estimated maintenance and repair costs of $20,752 since 2005. In 2011, the Public Art Commission created a subcommittee to seek a new, more protected location for Digital DNA but did not find a suitable locale. After a 2015 evaluation discovered instability in the piece's base and further deterioration of the sculpture's protective coating, deaccession was recommended.
The Public Art Commission will make its final deaccession decision at its Nov. 16 meeting (Go Mama, by artist Marta Thoma, and California Avenue, California Native by Susan Leibovitz Steinman, both on California Avenue, have also been recommended for deaccession evaluation). If deaccession goes ahead, the artwork may be returned to the artist at the artist's expense, sold or donated by the city, or destroyed. The public is invited to comment on the matter via email (send remarks to firstname.lastname@example.org) or at the meeting.
As noted in a letter from the Palo Alto Public Art Program to the Downtown Palo Alto community, "aesthetic taste is not a reason for deaccession."