The artist who created “Berkeley Big People” — a pair of sculptures the city plans to remove from a pedestrian bridge — is threatening a legal battle if Berkeley doesn’t delay its action, accusing it of deciding the fate of the artwork without properly consulting him.
Scott Donahue, an artist and Emeryville councilman, said the Civic Art Commission’s July 24 decision to remove the artwork was “damaging” to his reputation and lacks due process. He said the city’s reason for taking it down — the high cost of its repair and maintenance — isn’t good enough.
“They can’t proceed with the reasons they have given,” Donahue told The Chronicle. “If they do, they are damaging me. If they offer only what they’ve offered so far without any additional reasons … I object.”
The city’s decision was a cost-saving measure because the art pieces are too damaged to maintain, said Lisa Bullwinkel, chair of the commission.
Donahue claims that he offered to repair the art pieces for free, but the city did not respond. His attorney sent a letter Monday to Jordan Klein, Berkeley’s economic development manager, calling for a six-month standstill, citing a breach of contract with Donahue in making “good faith efforts to maintain” the structures.
“It seems like everything they are doing is trying to avoid any public process about it,” Donahue told The Chronicle. “I just feel like this is not the United States. Berkeley is not behaving like the transparent government that I assumed it was.”
The letter requests that the city to enter into a six-month standstill agreement with Donahue and suspend any and all notices to remove the artwork. And it gives the city until the end of day Tuesday to respond.
“It lays out for the city of Berkeley all the reasons why there would be irreparable harm and it lays out what could be said to a court,” said Gary Fergus, Donahue’s attorney.
By 2:30 p.m., Fergus said he hadn’t received a response yet.
Berkeley commissioned Donahue to create the monuments in 2003. Donahue completed the structures in 2008. The two sculptures, made from fiberglass, bronze and steel, stand on the pedestrian footbridge over Interstate 80 near Aquatic Park in West Berkeley. Mounted on four-legged pedestals, they were meant to symbolize the city and its people, and thousands can view them every day as they pass by on the freeway.
Bullwinkel declined to comment on the letter from Donahue’s attorney. But she said that the city has responded to previous letters from Donahue and feels they followed proper protocol for the removal.
“We have done everything exactly as we should have,” Bullwinkel said. “We dotted our i’s. We made sure that we did everything the right way.”
Bullwinkel said the commission plans to discuss how to remove the artwork at its December meeting.
Berkeley did not respond to requests for comment.