Going Public

In honor of the immense sculptures currently invading the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, I decided to head down to the Embarcadero to get a few pics of San Francisco’s own resident monster.

The Tate Modern’s TH.2058 is actually a recreation of one of Louise Bourgeois’ famous arachnid sculptures, crafted by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. Crouching Spider, currently squatting on the SF waterfront is an original Bourgeois on loan to the city.

Gonzalez-Foerster was aiming for upping the menace factor by increasing the size of the originals that he patterned his sculptures on by 25%. Crouching Spider would be dwarfed by them, but up close it was still pretty impressive. Few visitors seemed all that intimidated though: no one passed by without taking advantage of a photo op or just stopping to sit and admire.

That same morning over breakfast at Brenda’s (crawfish and cheddar beignets…) my roommate was bemoaning the state of public art in the city. To some extent I agree with her, but I think part of the problem resides not in a lack of will or funds but scattershot PR and advertising. For example, leaving the War Memorial Veterans Building on Van Ness early that afternoon I came across these puzzling looking works in chalk on the sidewalk.

Easy to miss, especially since sidewalk stencil art is a regular past time in the city. They’re a part of a Yerba Buena walking tour program called Ground Scores depicting members of the Ladies’ Philharmonic from the early 20th Century. By calling (415) 294-3627 ext. 529 you can take yourself on a guided walking tour exploring the history of labor unions and the arts in the city.

On the way back from Bourgeois’ spider walking along Market St., this kiosk poster caught my eye.

The images and story are taken from Jennifer K. Wofford’s graphic novel Flor de Manila y San Francisco, which depicts “(s)ix years in the life of Flor Villanueva, Manila to San Francisco.”

The little vignettes in the side panels are particularly moving exploring as they do her experience as she adapts to an alien environment and culture. I had a bit of trouble digging up information on the posters, eventually having to be content with the press release which explains that the works are located on kiosks stretching all the way down Market. Not knowing this, I probably breezed past the rest on my way to BART.

On the BART trip home I picked up an abandoned copy of the Chronicle and discovered that that very day Berkeley was dedicating a new sculpture celebrating the history of the city’s protests. The sculpture was installed on a pedestrian bridge above Interstate 80 so commuters will now have something to stare at as they curse the daily commute. Personally I think it’s something of a monstrosity which reminds me less of the worst examples of Communist monumental sculpture as it does of the nightmare sculpture of Harry Caray outside Wrigley Field in Chicago. For some reason the artist thought it would be a good idea to have faces sprout to life from poor Caray’s legs. It looks like some vision from Dante’s Inferno. As for Berkeley Big People though, it’s very possible I’ll eventually warm up to it. Not having a car though, I have a feeling my sightings will be rather limited.

Postscript: a very thorough and enthralling post devoted to Louise Bourgeois’ life and art can be found over at Joanne Mattera’s Art Blog.

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