Carmel’s public art advisory board members say city has ‘reached saturation’ with Seward Johnson statues 


The Carmel Public Art Advisory Committee voted March 21 in favor of the city acquiring three more sculptures by J. Seward Johnson, but not before several committee members expressed concern about the growing number of the late artist’s statues around town.

Carmel is home to more Seward Johnson sculptures than anywhere in the world except for a site associated with the Seward Johnson Atelier in the late-artist’s home state of New Jersey. With the $430,000 addition of the three sculptures reviewed by the committee, which will complete a set outside the Palladium featuring a sextet of famous musicians, the city will own 24 Seward Johnson statues (with the existing jazz trio counting as one sculpture).

“I think we’ve reached saturation,” committee member Jill Reese said at the March 21 meeting. “I’ve always found these a bit too whimsical.”

But it’s whimsy that drew the city to the statues in the first place. According to Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard, the collection has long been popular with many of the city’s residents and visitors, as he often sees people interact and take photos with the statues scattered through the Arts & Design District, Midtown and City Center.

Committee member Luci Snyder said she also sees value in the sculptures sparking interest in the areas where they are installed.

“It may not be the world’s best art, but it is exceedingly popular,” she said.

Carmel’s growing collection of Seward Johnson sculptures is no accident. City leaders began considering acquisition of his work in the late ’90s at the suggestion of Evan Lurie, a former arts consultant for the city and gallery owner.

“We’ve planned for 25 years to have the largest outdoor display of his work in the country, besides his atelier in New Jersey,” Brainard said March 22. “I understand that some people don’t like realism, but that’s been our plan, and I don’t see any reason to depart from it.”

Some members of the CPAAC disagree, however. Committee member Karen Poyser said at the March 21 meeting she was hoping to see the city pursue more unique commissioned art rather than add Seward Johnson pieces (the atelier may produce each sculpture up to eight times).

“None of my friends really like it. We call it catalog art,” Poyser said. “Carmel can do better than ordering art pieces out of a catalog.”

Brainard will leave office when his term expires at the end of the year, and it remains to be seen whether his successor will continue expanding the city’s Seward Johnson collection. The city already owns five statues in storage that are being considered for installation at sites that include Lot One and City Center, developments under construction.

Reese joined fellow committee member Julia Saltsgaver in hoping they’ve seen the last of Seward Johnson sculpture purchases to review.

“Please let this be the end,” Reese said.