Party Lines Beware of the art police 

Code Compliance now in the art business

Gilbert Barrera wanted to expose San Antonio residents to a host of world-class sculptors when he set up the Sculptors Dominion Invitational three years ago. He searched for a diverse roster of sculptors who do things on a grand scale, and brought them to his parents' seven-acre estate off Vance Jackson on the art-blighted North Side. During the first two years of the exhibition, more than 2,000 schoolchildren visited the venue.

These are not small manifestations of a sculptor's vision; they are bigger-than-life-size sculptures that demand a special place in Carmen and Roy Barrera Jr.'s big front yard/private sculpture park at 11356 Vance Jackson that 48 years ago was in a wilderness. That wilderness has since given way to urban sprawl that has made the road a major thoroughfare.

This year's exhibition includes 132 large sculptures by 72 artists, including Johann Eyfells of Iceland. Betty Hamblin Turner shipped in a giant chrome horse made of car bumpers and Harley Davidson tailpipes. John Serrill Houser brought the head of a conquistador and his Andalusian horse, part of the 36-foot 1st Horse of the Camino Real 1598, slated to grace the El Paso airport.

Barrera ran into a glitch last week when the City's Code Compliance Department cited him for conducting a business in a residential setting. Barrera was shocked when Code Compliance Officer Robert H. Martinez issued the citation and told him he must appear in municipal court to answer for the violations.

Roebuck says his department has never had to deal with a sculpture park in the daily routine of citing owners for rotting houses and rusty old cars, but the rules are the same.

Although this is the third year for the exhibition, it is the first time Barrera has been cited. Someone reported Barrera, but Code Compliance doesn't have to reveal the complainant.

"I think I fall under non-profit," says Barrera, who insists there are exceptions made for educational organizations, arts groups, or churches that use residential property to raise money. Barrera says he plans to launch a sculpture school on the property.

But Code Compliance Supervisor Gerald Roebuck says the rules should apply even if Barrera deserves a medal of honor for bringing quality sculpture to a city that has no appropriate outdoor venue for displaying these grand-scale sculptures.

"Mr. Barrera basically has an exhibition that is open to the public, and he is charging admission," says Roebuck. (Barrera also has prices listed on each sculpture, and they are not garage sale bargains). "He has a public assembly point, and there are regulations the City is obligated to enforce."

Roebuck says his department has never had to deal with a sculpture park in the daily routine of citing owners for rotting houses and rusty old cars, but the rules are the same. "When people file complaints, we are not interested in the motivation. This isn't an art issue. I want my inspectors to consider whether it is a City code violation or not. He needs to clear the sculptures off or go to Municipal Court."

Barrera could face zoning violation fines on a sliding scale from $1 to $2,000 for each day of the violation. The citation issued to him gives him 10 days to remove the sculptures. Barrera insists he could never get that much work done in 10 days, as some of the pieces took weeks to deliver and set up on the Barrera Estate, also known as Villa Carmen.

It's just the rules, but local sculptor Danville Chadbourne, who is displaying two sculptures, says he is "totally shocked by the whole idea" of a City code violation. "He couldn't possibly make any money off this whole deal. He (Barrera) has been extraordinarily generous with everyone. Without City funding, grants or any of that kind of stuff, to take this upon himself, and the generosity of the parents to lend the property for displaying these sculptures, has made this a fantastic exhibition every year."

Chadbourne also points out that the City "does nothing in terms of public art. What they do is so castrated at every level ... that City funded art is a joke.

"On a personal level, what bothers me about San Antonio is the willingness to pursue this; it is a petty mentality," Chadbourne says. "The City should try to grow up a little bit instead of being an embarrassment to the rest of the world. This is total bullshit."

Barrera said last week he has no intention of removing the sculptures from the public view. His deadline to remove the sculptures is this coming Saturday, but he already knows he will have his day in court.

By Michael Cary

More by Michael Cary



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