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The art project that set them straight


The artwork circa 2023

In 1988, the Palm Beach Gardens City Council required that all future commercial construction projects in the city buy and install a public art project to be located and displayed on their property. For any project worth more than $1 million, developers would have to spend 2 percent of the total cost on public art. 


In 1990, builder Otto “Buz” DiVosta submitted plans to build the SunTrust Bank building on the southwest corner of PGA Boulevard and Military Trail. (The building still stands today but SunTrust is gone). 


The building’s cost was expected to be $2.4 million, meaning the developer would have to set aside at least $42,000 for the work of art.


DiVosta held a public competition to find the right work of art. So many proposals flooded City Hall in May 1990 that the city decided that in the future developers, not the city, would screen finalists. 


In September 1990, the Art in Public Places Committee selected the work of art submitted by DiVosta, five concrete pillars of varying height. The City Council approved it in October and it was installed in December 1990.


But seven months later, two members of the committee said they had been misled. They had approved it thinking it was a work by Alexander Liberman but the pillars actually had been designed by DiVosta himself.


“I knew LIberman did abstract sculptures made of metal. I thought it odd he would work in concrete, but I figured if the developer and artist agreed to produce a concrete sculpture, that was their business,” said committee member Paul Aho, who resigned after he found out Liberman did not produce the work.  


DiVosta had rejected the committee’s choice for the project, a work by New Orleans sculptor Arthur Silverman, which won out over 31 finalists. 


So DiVosta zeroed in on the works of Liberman, who had a sculpture outside a bank building in West Palm Beach.

 

But, ultimately, the prolific builder of quad townhomes in Palm Beach Gardens decided to design the artwork himself, DiVosta’s spokesman William Shannon told The Palm Beach Post for a story that ran on June 17, 1991.


Before the presentation of the artwork to the committee, a DiVosta representative privately shared a model of the five concrete columns with committee Chairman Howard Ostrout. 


“My initial reaction was that I liked it,” Ostrout told The Post. “But knowing Liberman’s work, I knew immediately this was a big departure for him.”


It’s not a Liberman, he was told.


“Who’s the artist?” he asked.


“Otto DiVostiani,” he was told.


“Who’s that?” he asked.


“Buz.”




But no one told the committee when they met to approve the artwork. And it didn’t come up at the City Council meeting either.


“Art in Public Places is about more than just the history of the artist,” Shannon told The Post. “What I see is a committee member who is fascinated by a name and not an art work.”


In the end the city changed the rules: the artwork must be designed by a certified artist.


The city’s Art in Public Places program is responsible for erecting 130 pieces of public art (all but one designed by certified artists) throughout the city for residents and visitors to enjoy.


The five DiVosta columns, which ended up costing $48,000, still stand, now flanked by two enormous steel columns that support newly installed traffic signals.


— Eric Jablin and Joel Engelhardt






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