Volume 73, Number 50 | April 21 - 27, 2004

Member banished from board over ‘Karan apple’ flap

By Melanie Wallis

A proposal to put a sculpture by the designer Donna Karan’s late husband has caused a stir, resulting in a public member being thrown off the Community Board 2 Arts Committee.

The uproar came when Harriet Fields, the Arts Committee’s chairperson, asked the committee at its meeting on Mon., April 12, to vote on the proposal to temporarily install the 10-ft.-x-6-ft. brass sculpture of an apple by Stephan Weiss in the Greenwich Village segment of the Hudson River Park at Charles St.

Lawrence White, a professional artist and public member of the committee, refused to vote, saying that he wanted to know more about the artwork and meet with the individuals representing the sculpture. “I can’t possibly vote about a piece of art that I haven’t researched,” White told The Villager last week. According to White, following his refusal to vote, Fields asked him to leave and said that she was going to ask the board for his removal.

“The issue is not about whether I’m for or against [the piece of art], it’s about having a debate and making up our own mind,” White said. “It was like, if I don’t vote, I’m outta here,” he continued. White noted that Fields and one other member were against the piece of art, and he claims Fields called it “hideous,” “ugly” and “inappropriate.” Fields, who is also executive director of the Noho NY business improvement district and a painter, refused to comment for this article.

White said he was told to leave, because “[Fields] became angry because I refused to vote against the apple.”
In the end, there was no vote.

White also complained that Fields put a “gag order” on the public meeting, restricting anyone from discussing details outside the meeting. Apparently in keeping with the agreed-upon gag order, Sally Lindsay, a friend of White’s and a public member of the committee, who was present at the April 12 meeting, said she would not comment, “due to the request of the [committee] chairperson.”

However, a member of the public, Ralph Lewis, decided to comment despite the gag order. Lewis, owner of a multi-art company, said it was made clear that some members of the board were uncomfortable in talking about things in front of non-members, which lead Lewis to leave the meeting early, “before it became an issue,” Lewis said.

Lewis noted he would not have voted for or against the sculpture either, as he too, felt he needed more information on the project. He said that he wasn’t so interested in the aesthetic issues involved with the sculpture, but more with the process and selection criteria. (Fields in the past has allowed members of the public to vote on issues, something not seen in the board’s other committees. White accused her of trying to pack the vote with “friends.”)

“I was concerned that only people with money could donate their work,” Lewis said. “Everybody should have an equal opportunity to show their work.”

Lewis left the meeting before the incident between Fields and White, but said the atmosphere was “prickly before that.”

However, the general consensus among other C.B. 2 committees regarding the sculpture have been positive. The C.B. 2 Waterfront Committee, which got to visit the sculpture and speak with Karan herself regarding the piece of art, voted unanimously in favor of installing the sculpture in the park. George Capsis, a public member of the Waterfront Committee, liked the piece. “The man [Stephan Weiss] is a very powerful talent, his work reflects his protean personality,” Capsis said.

The Hudson River Park Trust, the organization that is building and operates the park, is reportedly not required to get approval from C.B. 2 for the installation, since it is temporary. Karan will pay all the installation costs, including insurance and the base, totaling more than $20,000.

Through a spokesperson, Karan gave the following statement: “We have received strong support from neighbors, friends and the community to place this ‘Big Apple’ sculpture on a temporary basis in Hudson River Park. Created by my late husband Stephan Weiss, it was always his wish that this work could be enjoyed by all New Yorkers. I am very pleased and excited that his dream will now come true.”

As for White, after four years as a public member of the Arts Committee, he recently received an official letter stating his removal as a public member from the committee. White said he will do all he can to try to get reinstated, “I am more than willing to debate issues [with the board members] and not take them personally.”

The Manhattan Borough President has the final say over community board appointments and board matters. Charles Walker, a spokesperson for C. Virginia Fields, the Manhattan borough president, said Jim Smith, C.B. 2 chairperson, has complied with Harriet Fields’ request to remove White as a public member of the Arts Committee. When asked what White can do to get reinstated to the committee, Walker replied he can ask for a meeting with both Virginia Fields and Smith to resolve the issues or request mediation. However Walker said there’s nothing they can do to override Smith’s decision.

In an e-mail, Smith said: “My understanding is that Mr. White believed the public should not be in attendance at a certain point in the meeting and that the chairperson disagreed. Conversation between himself and the chairperson became heated on this point. In fact, virtually all community board meetings are open by law to public attendance. Members of the public may speak, subject to the chairperson’s rules, during the public portion of a meeting. Generally, the public may not speak during executive session when the committee is debating and voting unless permitted by the committee chairperson. But the public has the right ot be in attendance throughout the meeting. As for public memberships, public members serve at the sole discretion of the board chairperson. It was my decision to discontinue Mr. White and I advised him by mail earlier this week.”

C.B. 2’s full board will hold a vote on the sculpture this Thursday at its full board meeting at St. Vincent’s Hospital, at W. 12th St. and Seventh Ave. S., Cronin Building, cafeteria. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.

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