Repurposing the obsolete

New sculpture in Laguna Beach, rich in symbolism, depicts a man trying to force open the door of the old-fashioned phone booth on Forest.

March 19, 2014|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Artist Michael Graham of Laguna Hills created a sculpture titled "I Want to Make a Phone Call," attached to a red phone booth on the 300 block of Forest Avenue in Laguna Beach. Overseen by the Arts Commission, the artwork will be available for viewing for two years.
Artist Michael Graham of Laguna Hills created a sculpture… (KEVIN CHANG, Coastline…)

Michael Graham was on the wrong kind of a roll.

Since 1993, he'd applied for various public art opportunities in and around Laguna Beach — 10, to be exact. Invariably, he'd make it to the finals, right to the cusp of victory, before being turned away.

Until last year.

The Laguna Hills resident was tapped by Laguna Beach's Arts Commission to install a temporary exhibit at the site of a red British telephone booth on Forest Avenue. Graham was one of several artists whose proposals aimed at revamping the K6 phone kiosk, modeled after Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's 1935 creation.

"We've had that English-style telephone booth for years, but no one uses pay phones anymore," said Commissioner Mary Ferguson, also the group's treasurer. "It's a charming fixture but ... completely obsolete."

She praised Cultural Arts Manager Sian Poeschl's idea, which received a unanimous City Council vote last January, stipulating that the selected artist could construct work using the box's interior or exterior, so long as its door remained shut. Although the city will oversee the maintenance of Graham's sculpture, which earned him $2,000, it will be returned to its owner after two years.


Titled "I Want to Make a Phone Call," the piece comprises an aluminum sculpture of a man who looks as if he is struggling to open the booth. A public dedication is slated for 5 p.m. March 20, followed by a reception at 381 Forest Ave.

"It's interesting, whimsical and makes people stop and say, 'What is this?'" Ferguson remarked. "Michael really used that area in front of the booth to call attention to the installation. He did it in a humorous way and we're very happy. It was a unanimous decision, as I recall."

After looking at the kiosk awhile, Graham, 61, recalled letting his imagination take the lead. Having decided right away that he didn't want to decorate the box with flowers, he was inspired by the fact that the door was locked.

So he began playing with the idea of a man who, despite the advent of technology, has given up his cell phone. It aggravates him, Graham said, that personal communication is losing its value with people's eyes glued to mobile screens and still others dependent on Bluetooths.

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