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Chicago Suburb Rallies to Save Skewered-Car Sculpture

Is suburban Chicago's "car kebab" going to that junkyard in the sky?

That's what locals are wondering now that a giant spike of eight speared automobiles in a Berwyn, Ill., shopping-center parking lot faces an uncertain future.

The sculpture, "Spindle" by Dustin Shuler, is scheduled to be removed within 60 days to make way for a drug store. And whether or not it will return remains to be seen.

"It is an extremely iconic piece," said Jon Fey, chairman of the Berwyn Arts Council. "Berwyn is, like it or not, known for that 'Spindle.'"

Fans of the artwork learned only last month that the managers of Cermak Plaza planned to relocate the sculpture to make way for a new Walgreens. Tentative plans would move the 1989 piece 300 feet west of the new building.

Hampering the move is a hefty price tag. Michael Flight, the president of Concordia Realty Management Inc., the company that manages Cermak Plaza, estimates it will take around $350,000 to move "Spindle" to its new location.

An even bigger stumbling block, locals say, is the artist's unwillingness to budge when it comes to letting the plaza use the piece to promote the shopping center and the city of Berwyn. While Shuler sold the one-off sculpture to the plaza in 1989, he retained the copyright, meaning he can control how the piece is marketed.

It's a claim California-based Shuler denies.

"It's a work of art and of course I have the copyright — to protect its integrity — otherwise God knows what they'd do in marketing it," Shuler said. "But no, they could have always used it to promote the plaza, and it did promote the plaza. People knew about it around the world."

"Spindle" is the centerpiece of a sculpture menagerie at Cermak Plaza, assembled by the late David Bermant, a managing partner of the development. His old BMW is the car just below the Volkswagen Beetle that tops "Spindle."

"This is there strictly to give pleasure in addition to taking care of the shopping needs of my customers," Bermant said of the sculpture in remarks, made before his death, now posted on his foundation's Web site. "We want our customers to a have pleasant time while they're shopping, and I notice that they barely, rarely even look at the art, but I guess they look at it enough to find it worth coming to."

"Spindle," whose notoriety was aided by a brief appearance in the movie "Wayne's World," has garnered a full-blown cult following.

"That's our little claim to fame," said Maggie Ragaisis, a co-founder of SavetheSpindle.com.

Some 700 people have signed a petition for the "Spindle" and nearly 2,000 bikers rode from a Picasso sculpture in downtown Chicago to Shuler's piece on July 27 — a few even sported "Spindle" tattoos.

At the state level, a senator proposed a resolution urging the city and Concordia Realty Management to keep the sculpture.

"There's a lot of people who don't like it, and they think it's just a bunch of rusty cars on a stick," Ragaisis said. "We respect that. Everybody doesn't like everything; there are some people that say the Mona Lisa isn't pretty either."

Former Illinois treasurer Judy Baar Topinka called the piece the "pipe dream of a gentleman who felt he could impose his taste in art on others" in an Aug. 3 editorial in the Chicago Tribune.

Those who dislike the sculpture are, for the most part, keeping mum about their opinions, Fey said.

"We're trying to get across that it's more than just personal taste — about whether you like it or not — it's a symbol and a landmark in our town and we're really known for it," Ragaisis said. "And if it were to go away, we think it would be detrimental to the town both culturally and economically."

Regardless of the Walgreens construction, a renovation of the sculpture was needed in the next two years to combat nearly two decades of weather decay and pigeon droppings, Flight said.

"We've had it cleaned, and the fire department has gone out there and used it for practice to blast the stuff off, but it doesn't work," Flight said.

If organizers can reach their fundraising goal — they've raised $1,000 thus far — Shuler anticipates he'll be there to orchestrate the "Spindle" renovation which, depending on damage, could include different cars, he said.

"There's only one 'Spindle,' I've never tried to do a second one," Shuler said. "Of course, if that one's destroyed, then I would be open to a second one."

“Spindle” fans pray that’s not the case.

"I certainly hope we can find a way to save the 'Spindle' and honor the artist's rights, but make it more useful for the community," Fey said. "I think it's a great piece of art."