"Upright Form V" was not the most beloved piece of public art in Wichita. The city never displayed the sculpture and the local paper described it as "11 tons of ugliness." Still, city officials are angry that parts of the piece were bought at auction for a fraction of its value.
The sculpture, stored in four pieces, got mixed in with scrap metal and other surplus items the city auctioned off recently. Matthew Cuellar, a local resident, thought that the pieces looked more interesting than scrap and, noticing the name of the artist inscribed on one of them, called a friend who verified that the artist, James Rosati, was in fact a somebody. (Another of his works was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.)
"Upright Form V" was donated to the city a decade ago following a residence at a golf club. The city planned to include it as part of a sculpture garden along the riverfront, but that development has never been funded.
Cuellar bought one piece for $20 and a second for $25 from another bidder. He successfully bid $230 for the remainder of the work, but by that time city officials had recognized their error and refused his check. They want Cuellar to return the parts he owns for what he paid for them, but Cuellar has held out for at least one-third of the work's value, estimated between $7,000 and $30,000.
"We certainly haven't tried to hide the fact that we made a mistake," says John D'Angelo, Wichita's arts and cultural director. "I think this individual just sees it as an opportunity to make some money."