One of the best sections of the city just got better. I don’t mean North Beach, Pacific Heights, or that stretch of Valencia with all the restaurants. It all depends on your taste, of course, but I think we can agree that Crissy Field is pretty magnificent. (Can you believe it’s been 12 years since all that concrete was broken up and hauled away, grass and native vegetation planted, the Warming Hut added, etc.?) Now, thanks to SFMOMA, eight huge works by the famed sculptor Mark di Suvero are scattered across that grass—if you can use the word scattered to apply to many-ton works rising up to 55 feet high.
di Suvero works in heavy-duty materials like salvaged steel and I-beams, but visually, his sculptures can have a surprising lightness, in part because he’ll suspend beams or circular elements so that they spin and sway in the wind. Take “Are Years What? (for Marianne Moore),” a 14-ton piece with a massive I-beam base and a big steel V dangling from one soaring beam. Or consider “Dreamcatcher,” with its sturdy bent-steel V pointing like a four-feathered arrow wherever the breeze leads it.
There are no moving parts in the playful “Old Buddy (For Rosko),” named for the artist’s dog—which, yeah, does kind of look like a four-legged animal, with the front left unpainted and the back legs and tail painted red.
Though he moved east years ago, di Suvero, who came to San Francisco when he was eight, grew up in the Avenues near Richard Serra, who went on to become a sculptor himself. In fact, “Pax Jerusalem,” that di Suvero sculpture across from the Legion of Honor, replaced a work by Serra that the city rejected. Interestingly, di Suvero’s “Mother Peace” was itself removed from the Alameda County Courthouse, in 1974, because of the peace sign di Suvero cut into a horizontal beam—too controversial for those days. This is the first time we’ve been able to see the piece here since then.
One of the reasons we love art is that it can change the way we look at the world. That is literally true with these works, because not only can we view them from different vantage points—walk around them and under them, study them from a distance and up close—we can see the way their steel legs frame views of the bay, the grassy field, the buildings across that field, the Golden Gate Bridge off in the distance. In fact, pieces like “Are Years What?” and “Mother Peace” and half of “Old Buddy” are painted the same red as our beautiful bridge, linking setting and sculpture in a particularly delightful way.
The Park Service is excited to have these works up for a year, knowing they will cause people to see Crissy Field in new ways, or maybe to go there for the first time just to see the artwork. And I’m excited, knowing that people who don’t ever step inside a museum or art gallery will happen on this work, unexpectedly, as they stroll or bike or picnic at Crissy Field. When I was there, a man and woman, with a dog on a leash, had stopped to read the signage for one of di Suvero’s works, then looked up and contemplated the piece again. “I’ll have to read up on this guy,” the man said. Yeah.
Through May 26, 2014, Mark di Suvero at Crissy Field, SFMOMA on the Go, 415.294.3609 (audio commentary), sfmoma.org.