Ride on SF Muni becomes an artistic experience with a new installation on Van Ness

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Jorge Pardo’s installation on Van Ness Avenue and Geary Street consists of two sets of sculptures with 13 steel figures that soar 21 feet at their tallest, topped with acrylic and fiberglass spheres. Photo: Ethan Kaplan/San Francisco Arts Commission

Jorge Pardo’s new sculpture installation on Van Ness Avenue looks great from the sidewalk, from the transit platforms between O’Farrell Street and Geary Boulevard where they are placed, and even from a passing car.

But if you get the right seat on a Muni bus using the new street rapid transit route, it’s an event.

The untitled work — two sets of sculptures made up of 13 steel figures that tower 21 feet at their tallest, topped with acrylic and fiberglass spheres — were dedicated in April on the two-block stretch, in part of the $346 million Van Ness Rapid Transit project. in this street. Each of the two platforms features an identically shaped installation but painted in different tones consisting of citrus and peach tones, cool greens and turquoise, a palette I can’t help but associate with both to paintings by Wassily Kandinsky and Japanese gummies.

At night, the upper halves of the spheres light up. They are programmed to turn on 20 minutes before sunset and turn off 20 minutes before sunrise, according to Jackie von Treskow, senior program manager for the San Francisco Arts Commission, which approved the project.

In his proposal to the commission, Pardo, a Los Angeles-based artist known for his site-specific projects, described the work as “an urban coastal redwood” and “an urban machine” that is “made of steel, light and time”. ”

Jorge Pardo’s untitled sculpture installation, comprised of painted steel, fiberglass, acrylic and LED fixtures, is on the Muni Platform at Van Ness Avenue and Geary Street. Photo: Ethan Kaplan/San Francisco Arts Commission

Pardo, who was born in Cuba, is a MacArthur Fellow whose commissions include a number of daring experiments that are closely tied to place. “4166 Sea View Lane” saw Pardo build himself a house as a sculpture object for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1998; The 2000-01 “project” involved a redesign of the lobby of a Dia Art Foundation building in New York City, including the addition of a full-scale replica of a 1994 Volkswagen Beetle; and in 2007 he created ‘Madrazo Tecoh Project’, where he transformed a crumbling estate near Mérida, Mexico into an immersive installation.

Considering how important location is in these other projects, it doesn’t surprise me that her shapes feel so well situated on Van Ness. That’s why I’m surprised how little attention the artwork has received since its unveiling a few months ago.

When viewed during the day, they are a whimsical yet thoughtful sculpture that adds a lot to this stretch, home to the stylish new Coterie Cathedral Hill seniors’ residence, the stately 1921 building that houses the new CGV Cinema, a sans The Courtyard by Marriott hotel, the beige retirement home on beige Avenues, and the beloved local kitsch that is the mural at Tommy’s Joynt restaurant. The work is in juxtaposition with the first three and in communion with the fourth.

Jorge Pardo’s installation on Van Ness Avenue lights up at night, timed to turn on 20 minutes before sunset and turn off 20 minutes before sunrise. Photo: Ethan Kaplan/San Francisco Arts Commission

When I first viewed the installation from the sidewalk and then inspected the sculptures more closely from the transit platforms on a sunny day, it reminded me of the work of the movement of 1980s Memphis design and reminded me of musical notes – transit passengers brace against the whoosh of the passing bus – and also lollipops and even punctuation. Looking at them from the high seat section of a Muni bus as it passes, they suddenly look more like the trees Pardo refers to in his statement, with their varying levels keeping the eye moving and creating a line of motion. reminiscent of a tree canopy.

When turned on at night, they transform the area, the lighting making them look even more like candy as the colors are brightened by the glow of the LEDs.

The end result is an optimistic piece of public art that has arrived at a time and place that needs positive visual cues. The fact that they feel as accessible from public transport as they are from the sidewalk has a 21st century ethos. With everything going on in the world (or even just in San Francisco), I understand why public art isn’t always the first thing on people’s minds. But this very public work of art deserves our attention. All he asks is that we watch.

Jorge Pardo, an artist based in Los Angeles, described the installation on Van Ness as “an urban coast redwood” and “an urban machine” that is “made of steel, light and time”. Photo: Ethan Kaplan/San Francisco Arts Commission



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