John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
Some San Franciscans are not happy about the new public art at Crissy Field, which they claim obstructs views and looks like "giant steel droppings."
After much effort and interagency coordination, an outdoors exhibit of sculptures by Mark di Suvero finally went up this week in San Francisco's Crissy Field. Composed of eight clusters of steel beams, the installation marks the largest West Coast showing for di Suvero, a giant in the sculpture field who's exhibited at Chicago's Millennium Park, Paris' Le Jardin de Tuileries and has pieces in more than 100 museums and collections worldwide.
And to celebrate their bold new public art, some San Franciscans say: "Too ugly and imposing for such an open, natural space." And: "Clean up these giant steel droppings!"
Those are quotes from an online petition asking the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy to rapidly dismantle the sculptures, which measure up to 40 feet wide and 50 feet tall. Here's the gist of the petition, as explained by its creator, Scott Garland:
Crissy field is a beautiful outdoor setting offering breathtaking views of the San Francisco Bay. It's one of the few places in the city offering wide open fields where people (and dogs) can run, play and just sit and watch the bay without some man-made structure blocking the view. The eight, large steel structures recently erected at the park block our view, impede our freedom to move, and generally diminish the natural beauty of Crissy Field.
The beef has spread to the Parks Conservancy website, too, where complainers have riddled the comments section of a cheery news piece about the artworks with stuff like "I love art but I also enjoy a natural setting for my runs. Bright red/orange metal in my face is not my way to relax," "Freeway junk yard art cluttering," "Anti-Tank Hedgehogs" and "piles of industrial waste."
One women went so far as to wonder where her "Irish setter is going to get her off-leash exercise" with these sculptures sitting there, allegedly getting in the way of running canines:
Many of the complaints seem to deal with the lack of unimpeded views of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, which living here I don't quite understand. This is a city of eagles-nest hills and wild parks perched almost up in the cloud zone – seeing the bridge isn't that hard to do, if you don't mind climbing a bit.
Most of the folks who have visited the installation seem to enjoy it, seeing how many different angles they can photograph the sculptures, says Howard Levitt, director of communications and partnerships at the National Park Service's Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
"The reaction we're getting from people who see it on Crissy Field is running about two-thirds enthusiastically positive, maybe 25 percent interested but no strong feelings one way or another, and there might be 10 percent who feel like it doesn't belong," he says. "Art being art, and San Francisco being San Francisco, there's no way to expect that all the people would be supportive of it."
Levitt has some advice for people who can't seem to get the view of Golden Gate that they want through the sculptures: Move around them. The organizers of the exhibit specifically included several sight lines to the bridge, so that a perfect viewshed would remain intact (to people who spend more than a couple seconds looking for it).
Asked whether the parks conservancy plans to remove di Suvero's artwork before its scheduled take-down in May 2014, Levitt had a simple answer: "No."