Category Archives: Prominent Artist

Brazen ~ CSUS

A pair of legs. Warrior’s legs, I’m sure. Maybe Roman by the look of the sandals. Brazen. This is a piece by Stephen Kaltenbach that stands near the entrance of the CSUS Alumni Center.

“Only a playful ease with unease can yield pleasure and possibly reveal the complexity of an artist whose work is elusive on principle” ~ Elaine O’Brien (1).

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The Art:

This piece was created with faux cast iron and stands 5’6″ tall. It is “part of a series that utilizes the destruction and repair and reconstruction of Kaltenbach’s favorite sculpture from the history of art as metaphor for the temporal aspect of both civilization and human experience” (2).

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The Artist:

Sacramento is home to several of Kaltenbach’s works including, Time to Cast Away Stones, Matter Contemplates Spirit, and Peace. Kaltenbach graduated from UCD, lived in New York where he was part of the avant-garde scene there in the late 1960s, and then moved to Sacramento to teach art at CSUS from 1970-2005 (1).

Going against the grain of the art scene of keeping artistic ideas to one’s self, Kaltenbach intentionally sought to keep his creativity open and looked for opportunities to share artistic possibility with others (3). He called this spreading of influence Casual Art, and Teach Art was one element of the Casual Art principle that his role at CSUS gave him a platform to embody (4).

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Title: Brazen
Artist: Stephen J. Kaltenbach (www.stephenkaltenbach.com)
Date: 1988
Media: Faux cast iron
Location: CSUS Alumni Center


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(1) http://www.midtownmonthly.net/art/bad-ideas/)

(2) http://godesigngo.com/es/art-meets-design/design-loves-art-at-the-pacific-design-center-presents-lita-albuquerque-and-stephen-kaltenbach-opening-march-25-5-8pm

Blue Trees ~ 13th & K

“Trees are the lungs of the planet.” ~ Konstantin Dimopoulos

Last week, Sacramento, the City of Trees, became the fifth ‘Blue Trees City’ following the lead of Melbourne, Vancouver, Auckland and Seattle. Artist Konstantin Dimopoulos’ created the Blue Trees Project to call attention to global deforestation, particularly of old growth trees (1). Locally, this living outdoor art project also highlights the value of Sacramento’s remarkable urban forest (2).

The Sacramento Blue Trees Project includes 20 mature trees along 13th Street between J and K, and 40 container trees that will be placed in different locations around town during and then will be planted at the end of the project (3).

The Art:

“The Blue Trees takes an urban landscape with which you are familiar and changes it for a brief period of time so that it becomes something unfamiliar, a strange environment.” Konstantin Dimopoulos

The vibrant blue is created with a water-based, non-toxic, biologically safe pigment. Blue trees do not exist in the natural world, and so, like pink elephants, Dimopoulos creates a surreal environment that startles our perceptions and delivers an image that we cannot get out of our minds (4). For Dimopoulos, the blue symbolizes a sense of the sacred as well as, paradoxically, a lack of oxygen; for without the trees, we would not have breath.

Colossal has some stunning photos of the Blue Trees Projects from other cities.

The Artist:

“Through my work I am striving to address global issues and provide a visual platform to effect change. So many universal concerns seem larger than an individual’s power of influence and I want to evoke in people the idea that we can all contribute to change in a positive way.” ~ Konstantin Dimopoulos

Konstantin Dimopoulos creates social art installations where “human or environmental actions… become visual references” (5). This visual reference creates conversation, and from conversation, change can occur. The “Writings” section of his website includes some inspiring and moving writing about public art. In one particular piece, he describes public art as a physical entity that occupies and alters space. He speaks of nature as the “ultimate creative palate” and that artists are to echo that and make it visible.

Sacramento’s Trees:

“Trees are largely invisible in our daily lives, and it’s not until it’s too late that we realise how important they are to us both aesthetically and environmentally. Each year an area at least the size of Belgium of native forests is cleared from around the planet.” ~ Konstantin Dimopoulos

Sacramento is rich in trees. We enjoy more trees per capita than any other city (except maybe Paris). This urban forest needs tending to be maintained and thrive. Issues such as diversity in tree species and age, planting space, tree size, pruning methods, and disease prevention pose significant risks to our urban forest (6).

Sacramento Tree Foundation is a local non-profit organization working on many levels to help create the “best regional urban forest in the nation” and they were heavily involved in bringing the Blue Trees to Sacramento. Their many projects range from Free Shade Trees to a Seedling Growing Program to training local Tree Stewards. There are many ways to volunteer with the Tree Foundation and you can become a member to help support their great work.

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.”    Mahatma Gandhi

Title: Blue Trees
Artist: Konstantin Dimopoulos
Date: 2012
Media: biologically safe pigmented water
Location: 13th between J & K

(Support for Sacrament’s Blue Trees Project involved numerous local organizations including: Sacramento Tree Foundation, Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau, Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of CommerceDowntown Sacramento Partnership, and City of Sacramento, Urban Forest Division.)


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1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9QoLZN4mec
2. http://www.sactree.org/news/81
3. http://www.sactree.com/pages/404?item=81
4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSiNq9LSNWQ
5. http://www.kondimopoulos.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Dimopoulos_LINO.pdf
6. http://sutterparkneighborhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Trees.Section1.Sacramento-TreeScape-1.pdf

Sojourner Truth ~ 13th & K

Update August 2014: Through the persistence and effort of community members and SMAC, Sojourner has been restored and is now safely exhibited on the main floor (inside) the Crocker Art Museum.

Update 1/15/13: I am dismayed to report that the Sojourner Truth sculpture was vandalized on 1/6/13. The sculpture was pushed off of the pedestal and broke in pieces on the ground. It is still unclear whether the sculpture can be repaired but Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission and others are seeking every avenue to restore this wonderful piece. I’ve included a photo of the broken sculpture at the bottom of this post.

Nearly 7′ tall standing with dignity and a flare of her skirt, this unembellished but powerful sculpture is a testament to the woman who inspired her (1).

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) was a former slave who escaped to freedom and became an activist contributing passionately in the fight for abolition and women’s rights (2). Among many other remarkable events of her life she was the first black person to win a court case against a white man (3), and she once bared her breasts in a meeting room to silence accusations that she was a man (accusations likely stemming from her nearly 6′ stature and non-demure manner) (4).

The Artist:

Through her artwork, Elizabeth Catlett (1919-2012) also spent her life fighting injustices against African Americans and women (5). Targeted during the McCarthy era for her politics, she moved to Mexico and for a period of time was denied re-entry into the U.S. (despite being a citizen) (6).

In a clip of the video called, Sculpting the Truth, she says, “I admire things I think are true. I admire things I think are just.” The social implications of her work was always the primary focus of her art:

“I learned how you use your art for the service of people, struggling people, to whom only realism is meaningful.” (7)
“I have always wanted my art to service my people — to reflect us, to relate to us, to stimulate us, to make us aware of our potential.” (8)

Some of her most popular works include: Malcolm Speaks For Us, The Sharecropper, Negro Es Bello, Survivor, Dancing, Two Generations, Black is Beautiful, Latch Key Child, Madonna, The Singing Head, Recycling Nude, and The Seated Woman (9).

At age 95, she completed one of her last sculptures, a life-size bronze sculpture of gospel legend, Mahalia Jackson (10) [Side note: Sacramento is hosting its first production of the highly acclaimed show, Mahalia: A Gospel Musical, through 9/23].

I think Sojourner would be proud to have been sculpted by Catlett, her sister in truth and justice.

 

Below is the photo of the recently vandalized sculpture (1/15/13).

sojourner

Title: Sojourner
Artist: Elizabeth Catlett
Date: 1999
Media: Mexican Limestone
Location: 13th & K


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(1) http://cityofsacramento.pastperfect-online.com/36991cgi/mweb.exe?request=record;id=E07395A9-92EE-4E3F-8575-108427269244;type=101
(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sojourner_Truth#cite_note-Sojourner_TruthInstitute-3
(3) http://ehistory.osu.edu/uscw/features/people/bio.cfm?PID=79
(4) http://www.sojournertruth.org/History/Biography/BC.htm
(5) http://my.saic.edu/news/89312/In-Memory-In-Memory-Elizabeth-Catlett.htm
(6) http://elizabethcatlett.net
(7) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/04/arts/design/elizabeth-catlett-sculptor-with-eye-on-social-issues-dies-at-96.html
(8) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/04/arts/design/elizabeth-catlett-sculptor-with-eye-on-social-issues-dies-at-96.html
(9) http://jassed.com/visual-artists/contemporary-art/140-elizabeth-catlett-celebrates-95the-birthday
(10) http://jassed.com/visual-artists/contemporary-art/140-elizabeth-catlett-celebrates-95the-birthday

This is your city without public art

This is your city without public art.

This is your city with public art.

Any questions?

The temporary removal of 1,488 enameled tiles for a restoration project of the iconic public art mural, The Way Home, gives us a unique opportunity to see our streets as they would be if they were empty of public art. Thankfully the cleaned and restored tiles will be reinstalled later this summer, because that vast expanse of concrete is a bleak sight.

The Way Home, mural by Fred Ball

The contrast between the wall with and without art is striking, and the Delta landscape inspired mural becomes an even more welcome site against the alternative of bare nothingness. Another compelling invitation to pay deeper attention to the public art that is available all over our city and how it infuses our streets with creativity and imagination.

“Public art is one of the most important elements that define a city. Public installations echo the character and spirit of a time and place, and remind us all of the imperative need for creativity and imagination in our daily lives.”
~ Carole Feuerman

Title: The Way Home
Artist: Fred Uhl Ball
Date: 1980
Media: Enameled copper tiles
Location: Western façade of the parking garage on Third and L Streets


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Califia ~ 15th & Capitol

“Califia, the Amazon-like Queen of the mythical island, Califia, after which California was named…. She is a spirit of cleansing, mending, and healing. She is Yemaja, an African Diaspora deity who is the mother of all waters and the spirit of patient creativity.”

A beautiful description by artist, Alison Sarr, of the striking figure of Califia which stands in the foyer of the state building at 15th & Capitol.

The Art:

She is carved from wood and covered in oxidized copper. Califia herself stands about 6′ tall and with about 7′ of bundles on her head, the entire sculpture is nearly 14′ (1).

Susan Shelton also created a piece inspired by Queen Califia and, although it is a different piece entirely, her description of the piece resonates with my experience of Saar’s:

I see Califia [as]… encompassing powerful and enduring symbols for us as Californians—Abundance; Strength; Life; Beauty; Diversity, Stewardship–and I was inspired to create a piece that would be an expression of my love of California, and a tribute to the mythical Queen who graced our state with her name [and her blessings]…. Implicit in the celebration of these gifts, I think, is the admonishment for Stewardship. Queen Califia calls on us to nurture and protect our extraordinary California.(2)

The Artist:

Saar grew up in the LA area in a family full of art; her mother is a well-known artist, her father an art conservator, and her sisters are all artists (3). Her work is often highly personal, a critic once called her work ‘banal’ and in this video, she agrees with the critique saying that she is a mom and drives a van and her work often speaks to what she is struggling with in life, but, she says, “that doesn’t mean that we who are banal can’t have really truthful and wonderful experiences”. This quote by art critic Rebecca Epstein describes the nature of Saar’s work:

“Saar juggles themes of personal and cultural identity as she fashions various sizes of female bodies (often her own) that are buoyant with story while solid in stance. [Her works often embody a] balance of strength and tenderness, in form and idea.” (4)

Title: Califia
Artist: Alison Saar
Date: 2003
Media: Wood and Copper
Location: 1500 Capitol (inside the foyer)


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(1) http://www.eastend.dgs.ca.gov/ArtProgram/Alison+Saar+Sculpture.htm
(2) http://susanshelton.com/artist/Sculpture/CulturalIcons/QueenCalifia/tabid/110/Default.aspx
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alison_Saar
(4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alison_Saar

Mt. Diablo Sunset ~ 2220 J

Anytime of the day, you can travel along J Street and enjoy a ”Marty Stanley sunset” on this large mural. Marty Stanley, a foremost painter of the Sacramento delta, was well known for his paintings of delta sunsets (1). The full title of this mural is, “Mt. Diablo Sunset as seen from Bouldin Island at the confluence of the Mokelumne and San Joaquin Rivers” (2)

The Art:

“I seldom paint the land. I always focus on the water. It’s all about clouds and reflections on the water” (3). Like this mural, Stanley’s landscapes were usually streched horizontally to convey the long Valley and winding Delta waterways (4). Sarah Rohrs calls his work a “sublime marriage of water and sky.” (5).

The Artist:

At just 19 and with no formal training, Stanley, a native of the Sacramento delta, made a decision to pursue life as an artist. In 1988, he opened the Levee Gallery in Ryde, which is on the Sacramento River about 3 miles south of Walnut Grove. Stanely’s body of work includes more than 400 original images of the Delta (6). In addition to the panoramic sunsets like this mural, his also painted much of the nature, architecture and history of the Delta region. He collaborated with Charlie Soderquist to create the book “Sturgeon Tales, Stories of the Delta.” I was saddened to learn that Stanley suffered from mental illness and in 2006 he took his own life (7). You can read more about Stanley on his website: www.martystanley.com.

The Place:

Two places are important in this story: the specific place the mural captures and the Delta as a whole, where Stanley spent his life.

Stanley’s website quotes him describing the importance of growing up in the Delta to his work as an artist: “I believe it was part fate that my parents moved to Isleton when I was only three months old. I was meant to grow up here in the Delta” (8). Stanley attributes much of his stimulation and growth as an artist to the small Delta towns in which he grew up. “Little did I know then, but that atmosphere was offering me the building blocks of my young, formulating mind. It was feeding the creative side of me. It nourished me — the people, shops and restaurants were really fascinating. It was all the fabric of my life, very rich and diverse” (9).

To capture the image of this mural, Stanely stood at the confluence of the Mokelumne and San Joaquin Rivers. The Mokelumne River watershed begins in the Sierra Nevadas just south of highway 88 and flows through Lodi until it meets the San Joaquin. The name Mokelumne is from the Plains Miwok peoples. The San Joaquin River is over 365 miles long. The river starts in the high Sierras west of Fresno and releases into Suisun Bay near Pittsburg (10).

The map below shows Bouldin Island at the “A” pointer which is near the confluence of the Mokelumne and San Joaquin Rivers. Mt. Diablo is in the lower-left area of the map to the south west of Bouldin Island, and Sacramento is near the top of the map to the north.

Title: Mt. Diablo Sunset
Artist: Marty (M.C.) Stanley (www.martystanley.com)
Date: 2000
Media: Paint
Location: 2220 J


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(1) http://www.seeart.org/murals/artistsh.htm
(2) http://www.pbase.com/southyuba/image/88778017
(3) http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20011223/A_LIFE/312239994″
(4) http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2245&dat=19921123&id=q4EzAAAAIBAJ&sjid=KDIHAAAAIBAJ&pg=4409,2618935
(5) http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20011223/A_LIFE/312239994
(6) http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=15966245
(7) http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=15966245
(8) http://www.martystanley.com/right_nav/meet_the_artist/bio.htm
(9) http://www.martystanley.com/right_nav/meet_the_artist/bio.htm
(10) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Joaquin_River

Jumperman ~ 6th & Q

18′ tall Jumperman looks poised to take flight from the entrance of classical modern design building at 600 Q that was once the Dunn Edwards Paint Store (1). The metal sculpture was created by Michael Riegel in 2003 (2).

Riegel has a series of sculptures of similar human figures (3). He has also worked with metals to create mechanical toys and functional tools including sewing scissors at the Smithsonian American Art Museum he created from forged and annealed carbon steel stock: “The curved handles show his interest in Japanese weapons and armor from the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries” (4).

Originally built in 1966, the building at 600 Q was redeveloped in 2003 now houses Nacht & Lewis Architects (5). The redevelopment team sought to maintain the classic modern design while transforming it into a dynamic building.

Respecting the strengths and character of the original building, the design team sought to inject a new image and vitality to the structure. Previously painted concrete block was sandblasted and left exposed for its rich natural color and texture. Exterior pilasters at the two-story glass storefronts were painted purple to accentuate their rhythm. Perforated steel plate guardrails painted bright yellow and a metal sculpture enliven the corner entry to the building. Finally, LED lighting was introduced behind a refurbished exterior signage band to illuminate the north and west facades and the streets below.(6)

Several public art pieces by Riegel can be found around the Sacramento area including:

Title: Jumperman
Artist: Michael Riegel (www.mikeriegel.com)
Date: 2003
Media: Metal
Location: 6th & Q


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(1) http://hellerpacific.com/projects/600-q/
(2) http://www.mikeriegel.com/
(3) http://sculpturesite.com/Artist-Detail.cfm?ArtistsID=257
(4) http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=20948
(5) http://www.nlarch.com/portfolio/private_600q.html
(6) http://www.nlarch.com/portfolio/private_600q.html

Fountain: Time to Cast Away Stones ~ 13th & K

Where are we going?
What have we wrought?
How are we loving?
What have we thought?

These questions, carved in stone and almost hidden under a cascade of water, are posed by Stephen Kaltenbach on his fountain sculpture at the Sacramento Convention Center called, Time to Cast Away Stones. In my image below, you can just begin to make out the carved letters underneath the flow of water, but you can find some wonderful photos of the fountain that reveal the carved letters of the questions quite clearly on Jenny Arnez’s blog post.

Time to Cast Away Stones consists of two rectangular sculptured stone fountains, separated by a walkway and running lengthwise along the center divider of 13th Street at the entrance to the Sacramento Convention Center. The sculptures evoke Greek or Roman ruins and you can find many interesting images within the seeming jumble of stone.

Kaltenbach graduated from UCD, lived in New York where he was part of the avant-garde scene there in the late 1960s, and then moved to Sacramento to teach art at CSUS from 1970-2005 (1).

In an article titled, “Altered Ego: Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer on Stephen Kaltenbach,” the author describes some of the most interesting aspects of Kaltenbach’s uniqueness as an artist:

Kaltenbach followed what he called a protocol of opposites: Whenever he identified a structurally embedded social pattern of behavior among his artist peers, he would do the opposite….Against the idea that artists should exhibit only in galleries and museums, he committed “Street Works” in public, often unannounced, using graffiti stamps, stencils, sidewalk plaques, and disguises. (2)

Going against the grain of the art scene of keeping artistic ideas to one’s self, Kaltenbach intentionally sought to keep his creativity open and looked for opportunities to share artistic possibility with others (3). He called this spreading of influence Casual Art, and Teach Art was one element of the Casual Art principle that his role at CSUS gave him a platform to embody (4).

From November 1968 and December 1969, Kaltenbach anonymously placed twelve full-page ads, which he referred to as ‘micro-manifestos’ in Artforum. The ads consisted of mostly white-space with a few words in plain type-face text centered on the page. You can see an example of one called, “Become a legend,” in the lower right corner of this image. The twelve micro-manifestos (5):

ART WORKS. (Nov 1968)
JOHNNY APPLESEED. (Dec 1968)
ART. (Jan 1969)
Tell a lie. (Feb 1969)
Start a rumor. (March 1969)
Perpetrate a hoax. (April 1969)
Build a reputation. (May 1969)
Become a legend. (Summer 1969)
Teach Art. (Sept 1969)
Smoke. (Oct 1969)
Trip. (Nov 1969)
You are me. (Dec 1969)

Kaltenbach called these “a passing on of possibilities” (6) and, in an article titled, “The Enigma of Stephen Kaltenbach, Almost,” Elaine O’Brien writes:

“These ads are word-works that specifically targeted the Artforum audience and effectively participated in the conceptualist project to multiply doubt, but they also evidence Kaltenbach’s heightening ironic self-objectification.” (7)

Since his move from New York, his public pieces became more populist in a move that could draw criticism from the conceptual art world (8). Even as he created more realist and decorative pieces, his conceptual work continued, and as this quote describes, the strangeness of his living in both the populist and conceptual worlds is just another element of his artistic uniqueness:

“Only a playful ease with unease can yield pleasure and possibly reveal the complexity of an artist whose work is elusive on principle” (9).

Three other public art pieces by Kaltenbach can be found in Sacramento (10):

The Crocker Art Museum’s permanent collection is home to an extraordinary painting by Kaltenbach. “Portrait of My Father” is a photo-realistic painting with a scrim effect that brings an ethereal quality that “gives a little barrier between you and the subject, and the chromatic spectrum makes you think about things that are unseen but there” (11).

Portrait of My Father, Crocker Art Museum online catalog

The Crocker describes the work as a “testament to life, love, and the loss confronting us all.” (12). In the seven years he worked with this painting, he experienced personal transformation through grief of his father’s death and dark psychedelic trips to finding faith and becoming a Christian (13).

On her blog, Jenny Arnez describes how the title of this piece reminds her of a biblical quote and the affect it had on her:

“Time to Castaway Stones” brings to mind Ecclesiastes 3:5. The New King James version says, “A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.” The sculpture causes me to think and question not only our society’s actions but my own daily choices as well.(14)

Although I’m not familiar with the biblical reference, I had a similar experience in terms of reflecting on the four questions Kaltenbach poses for us:

Where are we going?
What have we wrought?
How are we loving?
What have we thought?

Title: Time to Cast Away Stones
Artist: Stephen J. Kaltenbach (www.stephenkaltenbach.com)
Date: 1999
Media: Cast Cement
Location: Sacramento Convention Center, 13th & K


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(1) http://www.stephenkaltenbach.com/info/resume.html
(2) http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Altered+Ego%3A+Sarah+Lehrer-Graiwer+on+Stephen+Kaltenbach.-a0236980129
(3) http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Altered+Ego%3A+Sarah+Lehrer-Graiwer+on+Stephen+Kaltenbach.-a0236980129
(4) http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Altered+Ego%3A+Sarah+Lehrer-Graiwer+on+Stephen+Kaltenbach.-a0236980129
(5) http://stevenleiberbasement.com/archive.php?list=extra_art.txt&mfltr=extra_art.txt&afltr=&qfltr=&sort=&offset=220
(6) https://www.crockerartmuseum.org/exhibitions-collections/collections/asian-art/asian-art?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage_cust.tpl&product_id=695&category_id=51
(7) http://angelfloresjr.multiply.com/journal/item/7109/The_Enigma_of_Stephen_Kaltenbach_Almost?&show_interstitial=1&u=%2Fjournal%2Fitem
(8) http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Altered+Ego%3A+Sarah+Lehrer-Graiwer+on+Stephen+Kaltenbach.-a0236980129
(9) http://www.midtownmonthly.net/art/bad-ideas/
(10) http://www.sacbee.com/2010/11/02/3150600/powerful-portrait-at-sacramentos.html
(11) http://www.sacbee.com/2010/11/02/3150600/powerful-portrait-at-sacramentos.html
(12) https://www.crockerartmuseum.org/exhibitions-collections/collections/asian-art/asian-art?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage_cust.tpl&product_id=695&category_id=51
(13) http://www.sacbee.com/2010/11/02/3150600/powerful-portrait-at-sacramentos.html
(14) (http://www.jennyarnez.com/art-2/time-to-castaway-stones

Gold Rush Fountain ~ 5th & I

A stand of beautiful white-barked trees forms a soft backdrop for the Gold Rush fountain in front of the Sacramento Federal Courthouse at 501 I Street. This fountain is more than just a cascade of water; cartoonish bronze figures dot the entire plaza. Anthropomorphized animals, Native Americans, Western miners, pioneers, and even Uncle Sam, are in and around the symbolic river creating an allegorical image of the Gold Rush.

One online article referred to the sculpture as a “whimsical representation of early California history” (1). Otterness’ figures are whimsical but the piece as a whole is not simply whimsy. Like much of Otterness’ works, Gold Rush also speaks to the darker elements of the story. The plaque nearby describes that “Otterness’ intention is to prompt viewers to reevaluate certain beliefs (and myths) about American history.”

While designing a different piece for the bankruptcy court in Sacramento, Otterness, faced criticism from a judge regarding his initial design — a chess board with 6′ tall chess pieces in the form of money bags (2). The article by Pranay Gupte quotes the judge saying: “Forget it. The last thing that anyone wants to see outside a bankruptcy court is a radical economic critique.” (3) Otterness worked with the feedback and his design evolved. He described this process as “a kind of surrealistic collaboration with a very conservative judge” and said the process taught him “that when it comes to public art, you need to work closely with local officials and others who understand the environment, the local culture.” (4)

Otterness’ public art work appears across the US, Canada, and worldwide (5). One of his best known works is, Life Underground, that includes more than 100 different pieces scattered throughout subway stations in NYC. Otterness described the subject of Life Underground as “the impossibility of understanding life in New York” (6).

“His style is often described as cartoonish and cheerful but tends to carry a political punch. His sculptures are filled with multiple meanings and allude to sex, class, money and race.” (7)

Controversy surrounds Otterness an awful act of animal cruelty that he did as art in 1977 (8). He issued an apology but it is a disturbing fact of his history.

I like this quote from Otterness about how he wants us engage with his work:

My work is really social commentary….I want people to touch these sculptures, to discuss them, to argue about them, to find in them whatever meaning they might draw from my work. Not everything in my work is explainable, of course. But that’s good, too. It’s sometimes good to leave people somewhat puzzled. The important thing is that they touch my sculptures, and talk about them.(9)

The plauqe reads:

A native of Wichita, Kansas, sculptor Tom Otterness is known for creating bronze and cast stone scupltures. Most of his work utilizes allegorical human and anthropomorphic animal figures. Otterness includes humorous elements in much of his work, even when dealing with serious social or political subjects. For the Sacramento Courthouse, artist Otterness created an assortment of knee-high characters reminiscent of California’s early history – animals and fish, native Americans and pioneers. He choose to position his whimsical yet enigmatic figures along the plaza’s fountain, which serves as a reminder of the significant role the Sacramento River and other waterways have played in the history of the state. Using the Gold Rush as his theme, Otterness worked both with and against the artistic traditions of the American West, especially the sculptor Frederick Remington. With the familiar cast of characters, Otterness’ intention is to prompt viewers to reevaluate certain beliefs (and myths) about American history.

Title: Gold Rush
Artist: Tom Otterness (www.tomostudio.com)
Date: 1999
Media: Cast Bronze Sculptures
Location: Sacramento Federal Courthouse, 501 I Street


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(1) www.examiner.com/culture-events-in-sacramento/art-is-all-around-us-walking-tour
(2) http://www.pranaygupte.com/article.php?index=285)
(3) http://www.pranaygupte.com/article.php?index=285
(4) (http://www.pranaygupte.com/article.php?index=285)
(5) http://www.tomostudio.com/exhibitions_publicart_landing.html
(6) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_Underground
(7) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Otterness
(8) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Otterness#Controversy
(9) http://www.pranaygupte.com/article.php?index=285

Serendipity Fountain ~ 400 Q

Although I’m still discovering the numerous art fountains throughout the downtown area, I’m willing to bet that Serendipity by Mark di Suvero would win in the category of “Most Fun Fountain”. Serendipity sits in the park-like area near the entrance to the CalPERS building at 400 Q.

The spiraling shape of the top sculpture, the varying water jets, and the mosaic tile pool are all fun and interesting, but the piece goes beyond the amusing shapes and colors. Nearby is a keyboard control so you can play with the jets to make the top sculpture move and sway in response to the jets.

There is a great photo of the fountain when it was brand new on the flickr page of SLDdigital, and in the photo you can clearly see the mosaic pattern and metal element for the jets.

In the video below, you can see a slight swaying movement of the top sculpture in response to the water jets:

This plaque describes the inspirational themes di Suvero drew on for the piece:

The inspiration for Serendipity comes out of di Suvero’s roots in California and his deep interest in the role of water has played in the state. The powerful spiral of this sculpture and its multiple jets of water allude to Sacramento’s complex relationship to the water sources contributing to the agricultural bounty of the Central Valley. The sculpture echoes the tree-like form at the building’s entrance, reminding us of the role CalPERS plays as provider to and protector of its members. The vivid mosaic image in the pool beneath is based on the drawing made by di Suvero that reiterates the dynamic form and gesture of the sculpture above.

Last March di Suvero was honored at the White House by President Obama with the National Medal of Arts (1). An online article quotes Obama praising di Suvero: “Exhibited throughout the world, Mr. di Suvero’s exemplary sculptures depict a strong political and social vision, demonstrating the power of the arts to improve our world” (2).

While exploring di Suvero’s works, I learned about Storm King, a 500 acre sculpture park 1 hour north of NYC with works by di Suvero, Andy Goldsworthy, George Rickey, David von Schlegell, and over 100 other artists. This fabulous looking park is now on my list of places to visit during my lifetime.

Motu Viget is another of di Suvero’s fun sculptures. Located in Grand Rapids City, the sculpture is a large steel form with a massive rubber tire suspended in the air and is known popularly as the “Di Suvero Swing” (3). A flickr site has a good photo of the entire sculpture.

Motu Viget is a Latin phrase meaning “strength through activity” and this seems particularly relevant given di Suveros’ history with an accident in 1960 that nearly killed him:

he suffered a near fatal accident that left him confined to a wheel chair for nearly two years. Despite a pessimistic prognosis, di Suvero, through sheer determination, regained his ability to walk. During his recovery, his work took on an even greater monumentality. (4)

This Grand Rapids Press article describes the history of Motu Viget, which was created in 1977, and includes a close-up photo of a couple playing on the swing.

Title: Serendipity
Artist: Mark di Suvero (www.spacetimecc.com)
Date: 2005
Media: Stainless Steel, Titanium
Location: 400 Q


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(1) http://www.mlive.com/entertainment/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2011/03/sculptor_mark_di_suvero_honore.html
(2) http://www.mlive.com/entertainment/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2011/03/sculptor_mark_di_suvero_honore.html
(3) http://www.mlive.com/entertainment/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2011/03/sculptor_mark_di_suvero_honore.html
(4) http://www.sculpturesitesgr.org/sculpture_detail.php?artwork_id=2&location=2