Archive for Andy Goldsworthy

San Francisco’s Upper Crust

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Public Art, Sculpture, Site Work with tags , , , , on February 18, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2009. All Rights Reserved

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All photos in this post—Patrick Dougherty, Upper Crust, 2009, willow branches, Joseph L. Alioto Performing Arts Piazza, San Francisco (photos ©Liz Hager).

In the dead of a West Coast winter, when violent squalls relentlessly pummel us for days on end, any hint of gentler spring is a welcome thing. Thanks to the San Francisco Arts Commission and artist Patrick Dougherty, the sycamore trees at the Joseph L. Alioto Performing Arts Piazza (between City Hall and the Library) are already bursting with new growth. Through the magic of arboreal hair extensions, Dougherty has enhanced the pollarded trees with glorious crowns of willow saplings woven into fanciful swirling shapes. Huge hats, as the title of the piece—Upper Crust—suggests. The finished piece is a site-specific sculpture that runs roughly 150 long and eight feet high. It is such a convincingly natural integration that a pedestrian passing the installation work last Friday asked this VR contributor whether the trees grew this way. If only!

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The sapling weave is Dougherty’s signature style. In the case of Upper Crust, the finger- to wrist-sized willow saplings (supplied by Pescadero Farm) were assembled in a process not unlike the one described by the artist about a previous work:

The first phase is to harvest some bigger saplings which I put firmly into the ground to serve as a structural base. Next I imagine my sticks as lines with which to draw, and I pull piles of young saplings through these structural supports. This builds up a beautiful surface which looks much like a line drawing on a sheet of paper. Finally I “erase” or hide the blemishes with flourishes of very small sticks.

Actually, beyond the artist these large pieces require a small crew (often local volunteers) to execute. SFAC first presented Dougherty with a bunker-style building on Chrissy Field. The artist saw too many serious logistical problems with that site, and the project relocated to Alioto Piazza. Actually, the city may have benefited from the move. In 2006, Dougherty executed an ambitious and fanciful facade for the Max Azria boutique in LA. It’s difficult to imagine topping that in another venue, so perhaps San Francisco ended up with a really special Dougherty. Additionally, a striking and unusual “conversation piece” is good news for the underutilized Alioto Piazza.

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Upper Crust evokes natural objects—bird nests, hay stacks, cocoons, and beehives. But it also reminds us of man-made objects including unruly baskets, gnome hats, African huts, Hobbit houses, crone cottages, and even the Marie Antoinette (or Marge Simpson for that matter) coif. It cannot be coincidence that so many of the associations in Dougherty’s artwork hark back to childhood, as this is when the artist discovered his muse material: “Picking up a stick back then {i.e. in his childhood} and bending it seemed to give me big ideas, and I was able to capitalize on those childhood urges from long ago.”

Dougherty began his career making pedestal-size sculptures from sticks but his work quickly evolved to monumental scale. In part because they both fashion wood into natural forms, there will be the inevitable comparison of Dougherty to Andy Goldsworthy.  It would seem that wood is the only point on which the two converge. First, Goldsworthy works with a broad array of materials, while Dougherty works only with wood saplings. Further, Goldsworthy’s site works are all about impermanence. Even with his longer lasting structures—Spire in the Presidio or Stone River for example—the point is still the gradual decay (disappearance) of the piece, albeit centuries for certain materials.

Dougherty’s work is paradoxical. On the one hand, Upper Crust, like the shelter structures it conjures up, is a deliberate and methodical construction. On the other hand, it’s dynamic, all about movement.  A frenetic energy courses through Upper Crust. It’s as if a tornado had whisked through the allée, whipping the tree branches into disheveled peaks.  In this chaotic state, the work exudes agitation.

As a site-specific piece made from natural materials, Upper Crust is a unique in the world of public artwork.  It enlivens and invigorates what is for all intent an invisible public space.  One hopes that citizens will pause a few moments from their normal rush through (or around) Alioto Piazza to contemplate Dougherty’s work. . .  allow their imaginations, like those absent birds, to take flight.

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Upper Crust is one of a series of artworks in SFAC’s ongoing program for the plaza. The artwork will be in situ until November 2009.

Patrick Dougherty will talk about the work on Monday, February 23rd at 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM in City Hall (public welcome).

Wider Connections

Patrick Dougherty’s website

More Dougherty images

Out of the Cellar (video), Brittany

Arrival of materials truck

Manolo Valdés at Alioto Piazza

Venetian Red on Andy Goldsworthy

Childhood Dreams, the process of constructing a Patrick Dougherty

San Francisco Arts Commission

Mighty Impermanence in the Presidio—Andy Goldsworthy’s “Spire”

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contains Video Elements, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Public Art, Sculpture, Site Work with tags , , on December 3, 2008 by Liz Hager

In medieval times, a spire announced from afar the location of a church and, more important, its connection to heaven.  It’s not hard to grasp the ecclesiastical association in Andy Goldsworthy’s new piece in the Presidio; after all, it’s sited on a hill above the road and the pinnacle rises visually unobstructed some 90 feet above an open field of dirt.

Spire comes from the Anglo Saxon spir—spike or blade. Predominantly Gothic in architectural origin, the church spire became a symbol of the temporal power and wealth of its religious order (which undoubtedly preached resistance to these kind of earthly temptations). Spires communicated the arrogance of man, who audaciously taunted an Almighty God with the suggestion that human-made structures had mighty permanence. Of course it won’t be lost on many that The Presidio, once a seat of temporal might, is a most fitting locale for Goldsworthy’s iconic piece.

Visit “Spire” on a foggy afternoon as the wind has picked up. If you have the luck to be all alone on the site, you may find yourself thinking about ancient tribal rights. But as your gaze follows the poles to their receding point in the fog, you’ll probably be contemplating your absolute insignificance in the universe. Back down at ground level, however, there is something emotionally comforting in the fortress-like circle of trunks and deep furrows of their bark.

True to Goldsworthy’s artistic principal, “Spire” will not be permanent. With the passage of time the maturing fir and cypress forest planted around it will conceal the tower until it virtually disappears from view. At some point later in this century, the work may cease to exist altogether, as the wood rots, chunks fall off, and Presidio officials step in and disassemble it (government agencies being attuned to libel).

In “Spire, ” Goldsworthy has created the paradox of powerful impermanence. To paraphrase Somerset Maugham: let’s take delight in it while we have it.

Note: Don’t forget to see the free accompanying exhibit Goldsworthy at the Presidio, located in Bldg. 49, next door to the Officer’s Club.

Wider Connections:

Goldsworthy image round up

Venetian Red—”No River Runs Through It: Andy Goldsworthy’s “Stone River” at Stanford”

What others are saying about “Spire”—

ChezNamasteNancy

Bay Area Art Quake

Echovar

Kenneth Baker

Philips Garden Blog

Venetian Red in Berlin: The Path of the Wall is a Work of Art

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Sculpture, Travel with tags , , , on October 25, 2008 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Mauerweg (photo ©2008 Liz Hager)

Since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, points along its former path are marked by ceremonious memorials, public facilitators of enduring collective remembrance. Still other segments have been marked by a benign path—two parallel lines of cobblestones—embedded in the asphalt or earth. If you didn’t know better, you might think you had stumbled fortuitously upon a site work by Andy Goldsworthy or Richard Long. In fact, this path is a work of art. Beyond marking the past, it embodies, like all great works of art, a powerful axiom of the cosmos.  Already wearing a mantle of living earth, the cobblestones remind us that dust irrevocably returns to dust.

Connections

Berliner Mauerweg


No River Runs Through It: Andy Goldsworthy’s “Stone River” at Stanford

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Public Art, Site Work with tags , , , , , , on August 18, 2008 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
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Andy Goldsworthy, Stone River, 2002, 128 tons of sandstone, 320 feet (photo ©Andrew Alden)

An heir to the legacy of earthwork artists Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer, Goldsworthy employs the materials of nature to create works that are all about the aesthetics of the natural world. Like Monet and his haystacks, Goldsworthy has returned to the Serpentine wall motif numerous times in an effort, like Monet I suppose, to uncover different “realities” in the form. “Stone River” has been fashioned from the sandstone blocks of buildings that toppled in the 1906/89 earthquakes. In his choice of materials, Goldsworthy has created a piece that compliments the dusty, arid field. The pattern created by the closely stacked blocks adds a pleasing tactile quality to site.   Goldsworthy has set the wall into a trench as if to emulate a riverbed. (Although it might be a dry one in this corner of the world.)  It’s a clever conceit that also serves to help the eyes follow the movement of the piece.   From a vantage point above the wall, one can plainly see both the pleasing undulation of the wall and the less pleasant slithering of a snake.

All of these elements conspire to push the piece from an architectural to a sculptural element. As a sculpture, it is beautifuly emblematic—one natural form (sandstone blocks) becomes another (a snake). Although not visible in the picture above, the wall has a “tail,” which descends into the earth. This provides a literal and metaphoric “grounding” for the piece, but it’s also a whimsical detail that keeps the work from becoming too self-consciously “artsy.”

The real point of the piece, I think, lies in Goldsworthy’s choice of material.  With these “building blocks” he has tapped into the powerful cycle of destruction and rebirth—the blocks, originally hewn by man from natural elements, will disintegrate over time.   Thus, the wall in its trench becomes an archeological site, reminding us that the human hand, though ever present in the landscape, emerges and submerges at the will of nature.

Wider Connections

Goldsworthy at Cass Sculpture Foundation

Venetian Red—“Mighty Impermanence in the Presidio—Andy Goldsworthy’s “Spire”

Storm King wall

Andy Goldsworthy in Smithsonian Magazine

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