Seven sculptures join controversial display in Overland Park

Overland Park on Saturday dedicated seven new sculptures in the International Sculpture Garden at the city’s Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.

“Today is the second phase,” said Teresa Stohs, executive director of the Arts & Recreation Foundation of Overland Park.

The sculptures, which arrived last week, are the works of Chinese artists and, when the collection is finished, will be among 25 to 30 coming from that country.

Plans ultimately call for around 100 sculptures from artists around the world.

The new pieces join 11 sculptures dedicated last year along a wooded path at the arboretum, including “Accept or Reject,” which became controversial after some people complained about its depiction of a naked woman.

The American Family Association of Kansas and Missouri spearheaded a petition drive that required a grand jury to determine whether the sculpture was obscene.

Late last month, the grand jury decided the sculpture didn’t meet the legal definition of obscenity.

In the meantime, the controversy got international attention.

“As we know, art is challenging,” said Mayor Carl Gerlach of Overland Park during Saturday’s dedication. “It’s supposed to be challenging. It’s supposed to be questioned by all of us.”

People are supposed to have different opinions, he said.

“And we have in this past year,” he said. “We will continue to. But I think it (art) is also important because it betters and improves our lives.”

Stohs said she hopes the new sculptures won’t be as controversial.

“I think we made our intention very clear that this is art,” she said. “Art evokes great emotion. That’s our intent, to have an extraordinary world-class international sculpture garden, something that no one else around here has.”

Most of the artists who donated their works were on hand for the dedication, along with translators, giving people a chance to talk to the artists about their pieces.

Speaking through a translator, artist Xu Hongfei, president of Guangzhou Sculpture Academy, said he felt the sculpture garden is a great opportunity to enhance communications between Western and Chinese cultures.

His piece, “Kiss,” represents the love between people.

“He wants to bring happiness to people by his sculptures,” said Lucas Yang, Xu’s translator.