HARTFORD — So much for not touching Carl Andre’s controversial stone sculpture in the relocation of downtown’s Gold Street.
Workers marking utility lines last week spray-painted in orange and red the bases of 16 of the 36 glacial rocks that make up Andre’s “Stone Field Sculpture” on the north side of the street.
“It was a mistake,” Thomas E. Deller, the city’s director of development services, said. “We have to talk to the contractor and come up with a protocol to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Lines are routinely marked in preparation for construction projects to ensure that they are not ruptured. The work is directed by “the Call Before You Dig” program, but the markings are performed either by utility companies or contractors they hire.
Deller said it was likely the workers did not know the significance of the boulders, which range in weight from 1,000 pounds to 10 tons.
“Unfortunately, the underground electric lines on that part of Gold Street run beneath the Stone Field Sculpture,” said Mitch Gross, a spokesman for Eversource, formerly Connecticut Light & Power Co. “Still, we recognize that the boulders should not have been marked with paint.”
Gross said the paint is biodegradable and is designed to disappear over time. But Eversource is directing On Target, the company that does line painting for the utility, to immediately remove the paint from the rocks.
“We are also using this opportunity to remind our contractors and employees to always be mindful of their surroundings when they are working,” Gross said.
Eversource’s line painter won’t have to bother cleaning up the mess. Monday afternoon, workers from the Hartford Business Improvement District’s “Clean Team” showed up with graffiti cleaner and brushes and started scrubbing. The team, more formally called cleaning ambassadors, routinely remove graffiti and pick up litter within the district.
“This is what we do on a daily basis,” Michael Zaleski, the district’s executive director, said, standing near one of the row of rocks.
Initially, it was thought a power washer would do the job, but its lines had frozen in the cold weather. (A power washer will be probably be used Tuesday to deal with some markings that couldn’t be scrubbed off.)
The workers were advised on the site by Tao LaBossiere, a local artist who has worked on sculpture restorations, and Ulrich Birkmaier, chief conservator at the Wadsworth Atheneum.
LaBossiere and Birkmaier were understanding of the mistake — although they were clearly relieved to see the paint disappearing under the scrub brushes without damaging the weathered patina of the boulders.
“You couldn’t blame them for not seeing it as artistic expression,” LaBossiere said. “It looks like rocks in the park.”
Gold Street is being straightened as a component of the iQuilt plan to make the city more walkable. At a public hearing on the relocation in February, city officials assured those at the meeting that the sculpture wouldn’t be harmed by the project.
Andre, an internationally renowned minimalist sculptor, aligned the boulders — excavated from a Bristol quarry —in a triangular pattern on a grassy slice of city-owned land abutting the historic Center Church and the Ancient Burying Ground.
The boulders were installed in 1977, a commission by the city using $100,000 in grants from The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and the federal National Endowment for the Arts.
The sculpture immediately drew harsh criticism. Former Hartford Mayor George Athanson warned the work would expose the city “to international ridicule.”
“It’s just a bunch of rocks. Little kids could do that,” Athanson said at the time.