New Home Found for Marlo Bartels' Disputed Fountain Sculpture

The whimsical-but-functional fountain was unveiled in the Irvine Regional Hospital lobby upon the facility's 1990 opening to great fanfare. After all, Bartels' sculptures grace parks, museums and the inside of rich people's homes around Southern California and the world. “Marlo is clearly one of the most important contemporary public sculpture artists to be working on the West Coast,” Laguna Art Museum director Bolton Colburn stated in a letter urging the saving of the fountain.

The hospital's previous owner abandoned the sprawling complex along Sand Canyon Avenue near the 405 freeway in December 2008. Shortly after leasing the space in February, Newport Beach-based Hoag Hospital decided the large art piece didn't fit with a redesign aimed at upgrading the medical facility to today's standards.

Not only that, the fountain simply did not work–and when it did, overspill created a slip hazard in a heavily trafficked area, a Hoag spokesperson told the Weekly in May.


At the least, Bartels wanted his piece relocated within the hospital. He, his wife and Colburn appealed to Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang, Orange County's art community and the Hoag board of directors. 

“Marlo has a legacy here and this piece must be preserved,” explained his wife, Cathy Bartels.

“Removing it would destroy it,” Bartels said of the fountain at the time.

As the artist and the museum director sought intervention, Hoag management offered to hold off demolishing the fountain while the artist could make arrangements to relocate it–so long as it was relocated to somewhere other than the Irvine hospital.

That finally happened, reports Cathy Bartels.

“The good news is now that Marlo's sculpture will be placed in Laguna Beach with the help of Community Arts Project (C.A.P.) in Laguna Beach,” she writes in a message to the Weekly. “They funded the removal of the sculpture and will now find the perfect location and possibly revive the fountain aspect of the piece. I'm very happy!”

The sculpture now resides in a storage space until a public location in Laguna Beach is found by the C.A.P.

“That takes a little more time but they are looking and working on that. We're both very happy about this,” said Cathy Bartels, who added the couple would like to publicly thank the C.A.P. for taking up the cause.

Besides re-doing the lobby, Hoag plans to open a new emergency room and acute care facility in Irvine in 2010.

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