Modern art exhibition could be on deck in Avalon Harbor

Doug Aitken’s work would be displayed underwater and accessible only by swimming or diving.

AVALON — Imagine there is this new exhibition of contemporary art in town, but the only way you can see the artist’s work is by taking a short swim into the ocean.

An underwater sculpture created by contemporary artist Doug Aitken could be installed just beyond Avalon Harbor within the next few weeks, pending California Coastal Commission approval.

Avalon’s City Council voted on Sept. 6 to move forward with a plan to have three underwater sculptures featured in a Dive Park just off the Catalina Island coast.

“The underwater sculptures will be installed for a period of three months and would be free and open to the public,” Avalon city staff stated in a report to council members. “These sculptures, which are geometric in design, will be moored to the Casino Dive Park floor and floating under the surface at varying depths in order to make this artistic experience accessible to divers/swimmers of all skill levels.”

If installed the underwater sculptures would be located just outside a Marine Protected Area at Casino Point.

“The sculptures would be moored/anchored within the city’s Dive Park at a depth of approximately 70 feet,” city staff stated in its report. “The mooring system for the sculptures is designed to withstand currents and swells well in excess of the maximums experienced in the Dive Park. The sculptures will only be accessible by swimming to the exhibit from Casino Point.”

Installing the sculptures would require seven 2,500-pound moorings to provide safety and stability.

Original plans called for a floating platform to hover above the three sculptures for swimmers to view the exhibition from above. The platform is not included in current plans.

Final assembly of the sculptures will take place at Catalina Boat Yard.

“The area identified within the Dive Park for the temporary moorings is one that is not subject to close/passing vessel traffic and is in a remote area of the Dive Park that has low utilization,” explained the staff of Deep Ocean Exploration and Research (DOER) in a presentation to the City Council. “This location is optimal for safety of the pavilions, boating traffic and visitors. Divers visiting this section of the park are typically the most experienced visitors, most with advanced diving certifications.”

The DOER presentation added the sculptures do not present an entanglement hazard.

City officials hope to have the exhibition installed before October and removed by Dec. 31.

The idea of presenting Aitken’s underwater sculptures was first broached in April, when the artist and Avalon’s City Council members discussed featuring his work at the island in conjunction with a workshop exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).

Avalon will not be funding the sculptures’ installations, though the city does hope to see an increase in tourism revenue during the length of the exhibition.

Once the Coastal Commission issues a permit (or waives the Coastal Development Permit requirements) the city of Avalon would allow the Parley Foundation, the party taking responsibility for the three underwater sculptures, to move forward with its exhibition.

However if the Coastal Commission does not sign off on the exhibition then Aitken’s work would not be featured beneath the water’s surface.

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