The Scripps Turd Sculpture in San Diego

Okeanos Turd Statue in San Diego


Public art is always subject to debate, and in San Diego, the preference tends to run on the less-than-sophisticated side. Statues of dolphins and fishermen will barely cause a ripple, but anything remotely abstract will elicit cries of outrage. There is one sculpture in particular that caused befuddlement, more than outrage, along with a high-level of embarrassed chuckles. Representing a large bowel movement, hospital staff and patients of the Scripps Green Hospital referred to the sculpture piece as the "Scripps Turd" which remains its reputation to this day.

The Abstract Sculpture, Okeanos, a.k.a. "The Scripps Turd"

The Scripps Turd is an abstract bronze sculpture called Okeanos by artist William Tucker. Tucker is a modern British sculpture and art scholar born in Cairo, Egypt. Tucker attended the University of Oxford in 1955 through 1958 and went on to further study sculpture at Saint Martin's School of Art in London under teacher and mentor Anthony Caro. He has since received several awards and honors for his work, such as:

  • The Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts in 1986
  • The International Sculpture Center's Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture in 2010
  • The title of National Academician at the National Academy Museum in 2011

Between 1988 and 2001, people driving along North Torrey Pines Road in La Jolla have undoubtedly noticed Tucker's big, hulking 13-foot piece of art in front of the Scripps Green Hospital. Despite the public's distaste for the art piece, the 3,500-pound sculpture was commissioned for $200,000 in 1987. The money came from donors in honor of Frank J. Dixon, the Director of the Institute for 25 years.

Tucker named the artwork after the Greek god of rivers and oceans, Okeanos or Ὠκεανός (Ōkeanós), also known as Oceanus. Okeanos was a Titan who represented the ocean and was the eldest son of Uranus and Gaia. Tucker said the form, to him, suggested an ocean wave, and it was hailed by many critics when it was revealed.

Criticism and Review of the Sculpture From 1988-2001

Michael Brenson, the former art critic of The New York Times, wrote of Okeanos in 1988:

"The sculpture is a rippling curve that seems to spew out of the earth and curl up like a wave. It suggests not only water but also clouds and vegetation and human limbs."

Alas, the public didn't feel the same way. Nor did philanthropist Edythe H. Scripps, and so "The Turd" was moved in 2001. "I’ve been trying to get rid of that thing for years,” Scripps said to the Union-Tribune in 2001. “I’m certainly glad to see it go.” Thus, the sculpture was moved to a less conspicuous place on the east side of the Scripps Research Institute, on the corner of John Jay Hopkins Drive and General Atomics Court. Moving the sculpture to the office park cost a lump sum of $40,000.

Admission is free for a view, and the Okeanos piece can still be found at the location aforementioned for those who consider it a moving piece of art.

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