- Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2014

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) - The sculpture “Sun King” has never had much respect in Tacoma.

In 1976, when the City Council approved spending $37,000 on the bronze artwork - which weighs 6 tons and stands taller than a semi-truck - the headline in the next day’s newspaper was “Monstrosity? Masterpiece? It’s now ours - forever!”

At the time, “Sun King”’s creator, Oregon sculptor Thomas Morandi, endured a barrage of insults about his work from Tacoma residents, who compared it to “dinosaur droppings” and worse.

Despite its prominent location in front of the Sheraton Hotel at South 13th Street and Broadway, the sculpture was mostly ignored for 30 years.

For many people, its best feature was the satisfying sound it made when hit with the side of a fist - a deep, resounding “bong,” often compared to a Chinese gong.

In 2006, “Sun King” suffered further ignominy. When the Sheraton was upgraded to become the posh Hotel Murano, the building’s new owners asked that “Sun King” be removed, saying it didn’t fit with the image they were trying to create.

The city obligingly hauled the statute off to storage, rusted and decaying from the inside out.

Now, after eight years in exile, “Sun King” is out in public again. Its rusty insides have been repaired, and Wednesday it was trucked to its new home in a tiny pocket park at South 15th and Dock streets, where city arts administrators hope it finally will get the respect they say it deserves.

“I think it’s going to be really stunning in its new location,” said City of Tacoma Arts Administrator Amy McBride. “It’s a magnificent work of art, and I’m really looking forward to having the right space around it to actually enjoy it.”

McBride and Dan Cederlund, the city engineer who orchestrated “Sun King”’s move across town, watched nervously Wednesday as contractors inched the sculpture onto its new concrete base at the park. “Sun King” made the move in three separate pieces. The largest one touched down shortly before 5 p.m.

Cederlund pronounced the sculpture’s new reinforced bottom “better than new.”

A dedication ceremony has been scheduled for June 25.

Regardless of the level of appreciation “Sun King” deserves as artwork, it deserves recognition for the place it holds in Tacoma’s history with public art. “Sun King” was the first major piece of public art commissioned by the city, and it happened decades before Dale Chihuly and before Tacoma began to see itself as an “arts town.”

As a public art pioneer, Morandi and his work bore the brunt of debates not only over the value of spending public money for artwork, but also the value of “abstract” art in general.

The $37,000 paid to Morandi for “Sun King” didn’t come from the local community. It was part of a federal urban renewal grant awarded to the city for the southern extension of the Broadway Plaza.

Story Continues →