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Crowds interacting with Adriana Varella’s public sculpture, Digital DNA, 2000–05.

Public Sculpture in Palo Alto, California, Faces Permanent Removal

Eileen Kinsella of Artnet reports that the City of Palo Alto, California, wants to remove Adriana Varella’s Digital DNA, 2000–2005, a large-scale egg-shaped public artwork made from computer keyboards, Styrofoam, and fiberglass that was installed in a downtown plaza in 2005. The city claims that maintaining the work has become prohibitively expensive. Varella says her piece is protected under the Visual Artists Rights Act and that taking it down violates rights afforded by the act. She also has mentioned that the work’s removal breaks Palo Alto’s own rules regarding deaccessioning. The artist has until February 23 to take down Digital DNA.

A letter from the artist’s lawyer, Nicholas O’Donnell, says that the egg “addresses complicated themes of technology and public space in the very heart of Silicon Valley,” while noting its popularity on social media. O’Donnell asserts that removing the work is a transgression against Varella’s moral rights: “The moment that the sculpture is removed, it will be destroyed, because it cannot be what it is anywhere else.”

A representative from Palo Alto’s mayor’s office says that there were more than sixty public meetings where Digital DNA was discussed. There is even a thirty-three-page dossier about the work, underscoring that its materials do not make it suitable for outdoor display. “Despite our best efforts to prolong the life of the piece over the years, the materials are not suited to the outdoor environment,” said the spokesperson. The city claims that the artist has been paid $8,000 for various attempts to fix or preserve the egg and that, at one point, a protective coating the artist applied to the sculpture began peeling after a few months. External consultants were also brought in to advise on the matter. The City of Palo Alto says it did everything it could to properly maintain the work.

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