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Natural Beauty 

SFMOMA makes art out the Bay Area's streets, parking lots, freeways and hills

Wednesday, May 9 2001
Standing in a parking lot and peering through a wire fence may not qualify as an art experience to everyone. But it does to the curators of SFMOMA's ambitious new exhibition, "Revelatory Landscapes," which opened May 5. No longer confined within museum walls, art takes to the streets, parking lots, freeways, hills, and even BART stations in the Museum of Modern Art's first outdoor display, which took four years to complete. For the show, five teams of commissioned designers and artists created art in five temporary, site-specific installations -- both large-scale urban design projects and smaller structures. They're scattered throughout Berkeley, Oakland, San Jose, and San Francisco in neglected, undeveloped areas at the cities' outskirts, each piece exposing an aspect of the environment previously hidden or distorted, and taking into consideration the area's cultural significance and history. Each location calls attention to places that normally go unnoticed, the countless places we see every day but ignore.

For example, in Wind, Sound, and Movement, French designer Kathryn Gustafson, Bay Area architect Jaimi Baer, and the landscape architecture firm Conger Moss Guillard transform the barren hill at Candlestick Point into a futuristic aural and visual wind tunnel. Using hidden chimes and hundreds of sparkling mylar spinners mounted on 6-foot-tall rods, the piece physically and sonically marks the path of wind as it moves up the hill. At the top, you'll see three "sound chairs" -- made from wood and corrugated pipe -- positioned to reduce the constant freeway rumblings and roaring airplanes. It's a serene, meditative space amidst the urban jungle.

Similarly, another piece, Red Is Out, transforms a barren tract off a parking lot into a politically charged piece. ADOBE LA, an L.A.-based design group, addresses the "transformation of urban cities by immigration," as architect Gustavo Leclerc describes it. Located next to Mission Creek near Lefty O'Doul Bridge, one block from Pacific Bell Park, the site presents life-size resin replicas of families running away from the city, toward the bay. According to the explanation on a nearby kiosk, the images were inspired by the traffic signs near the U.S./Mexico border that warn drivers about illegal immigrants who run across freeways. The piece is intended as a critique of gentrification, and as a mirror of the "diaspora of the Mission District," Leclerc explains. A last-minute change in the location forced the designers to move Red to its current space behind a wire fence, which unfortunately makes it difficult to see the carved red glyphs.

One of the few exhibits to come with its own advisory to visit during daylight hours and wear appropriate footwear, "Revelatory Landscapes" represents a bold step toward interactive art. Three other installations -- Hood Design's Landscape in Blue -- Entropy in the Landscape, Hargreaves Associates' Markings, and Tom Leader Studio's Coastlines -- challenge intrepid viewers to experience art actively, to accept the unpredictability and the inevitable changes that will take place in the unprotected sites over the upcoming months. "Nature is unguarded and messy," explains guest curator Leah Levy. "What happens to them is all a part of the process."

About The Author

Lisa Hom


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