SANTA MONICA, Calif. — The Santa Monica Pier is where Route 66 meets the ocean, but few might think about the world underneath the pier, except perhaps artist Manfred Müller, who in the 1980’s was struck by the cathedral-like quality of the space, where man-made pillars of wood and concrete stand against the constant force of the ocean.
Müller’s response was to create a public space installation called, "Twilight and Yearning" which consists of three orange boats placed upright like sentinels amidst the sand and waves.
“I brought a certain kind of idea here that gives actually the citizen of Santa Monica, the citizen of south California, a certain kind of idea how valuable this element of life that the ocean is," explained Müller.
"Twilight and Yearning" took five years to conceptualize and complete and Müller gifted it to the City of Santa Monica in 1998 with the understanding that the city would maintain the work.
Over the intervening years, there have been many changes brought on by the elements. The movement of the tides have half-buried the boats in sand and also washed away the placards that were placed nearby to explain to visitors what the work is.
“We have to renew that, otherwise it makes no sense,” Müller said. “You know, nobody knows what it is.”
Müller maintains that the installation can be reactivated with a few simple things like motion-triggered LED lighting, new digital QR codes for the smart phone era and of course a new coat of paint. Graffiti on the orange boats has been covered over haphazardly with patches of gray paint.
Despite Müller’s calls for it to be brought up to date, the city of Santa Monica recently decided to deaccession the work citing safety concerns. Müller points out that the city has also posted signs stating that the area is now closed to the public due to the pandemic.
The German-American artist has been appealing the city’s decision and continues to call for saving the 23-year-old piece.
Regarding the work and Müller’s appeals, the City of Santa Monica’s Community Services Department Director Andy Agle released the following statement to Spectrum News 1:
“Given that the [installation’s] burial in sand has created a hazard and the site is not open to the public, the city was unable to accommodate [Müller’s] request… During this appeals process, the idea arose to commission Mr. Müller to document the history of the project and contextualize the themes in Twilight and Yearning… With city support, the artist is crafting a proposal of documentation to be showcased online, and we are looking forward to seeing this come to fruition in the near future.”
But Müller said he hasn't given up quite yet, and that the piece should and can live on…
“… with a new description. But to reactivate the whole thing,” he said.
And as awareness of the environment and climate change continues to grow, with the proper framing and restoration work, the three boats can continue to invite us to reflect upon the importance of this space beneath the pier and the ocean that we are all connected to, Müller believes.