Utah Mulls Over Karl Momen's Monumental Meatballs

updated 03/03/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/03/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

The Swede came to Utah, and he looked at the Great Salt Flats. He looked at the wideness of them and at their flatness and their great desolation. He thought they were good. In fact, he thought they were perfect, except for being maybe a touch "monotone," as he put it. They needed something. Since he was an architect, he obtained 40 acres and began to build.

And that is why the Salt Flats are now graced with Metaphor, rearing 86 feet out of the white baldness along Interstate 80 near the Utah-Nevada border. Metaphor was pieced together by Karl Momen, 51, from 255 tons of cement, 100 tons of local rock, five tons of welded rods, four tons of epoxy and 18,000 ceramic tiles. It is not portable. It cost thousands of dollars, which he raised in bank loans and donations, plus "a million dollars of my own time." Because the Stockholm native's sculpture features six spheres on top, wags call it "Swedish Meatballs," although one sphere looks more like an olive. Momen, however, has little doubt about the artistic merit of his eight-story work. "It is comparable to the St. Louis Arch or Mount Rushmore," he says. "I believe that most people will find it improves the landscape."

The locals are divided about that. "I wouldn't dream of going to Sweden to put something that huge on their landscape," objects Carleen Jimenez, a Salt Lake City artist. Art gallery owner Gayle Weyher, for the defense, says, "It adds to the beauty of the desert and will change the consciousness of everyone who sees it."

Momen has already moved on to his next scheme—a slightly smaller outdoor sculpture for an oil company in Texas—but, he says, "I'll come back to Utah once in a while to see how the sculpture is doing." It should do all right: It's built to withstand an earthquake of up to 7.9 on the Richter scale. Of more concern to its creator is how it will weather the artistic storm. Says Momen, "I'm anxious to hear what the truck drivers call it."

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