By the time you read this, one of the most exciting art exhibits I’ve experienced in a long time will be gone from our city, and your chance of enjoying it (or being mad at it, as I’ve heard some San Franciscans were), will be gone with it. SFMOMA’s installation of Mark di Suvero’s stunning, monumental steel sculptures that resided on Crissy Field for a year. I’m sorry if you missed it, as I almost did, because, no matter what your feeling about abstraction in modern art, these constructions would have provided you with some perspective-changing entertainment — especially if you had the joy of walking close to them, feeling yourself under and around them. It’s one thing to see such large objects from your car as you drive by, and quite another to get close to them and allow their physicality to affect yours.
So this month’s column is a rhapsodic homage and a fond farewell to those glorious things now gone (unless, by good fortune, SFMOMA decided to extend their stay). It is also an invitation to you: The next time something enormous intrudes on your usual view, go close and engage. Even if you don’t understand it at first, or “dig” its esthetic, embrace it, as I finally did, once I got myself out of my car and walked around the exhibit-that-was.
A lively fantasy occurred to me as I ambled around and through it.
I had a feeling that once the sun went down, after all Marina visitors, residents and their dogs were fast in their beds, a strange thing happened on Crissy Field. I’m taking bets that the monumental di Suvero steel sculptures did the unexpected: they started to dance; that each one of those monstrously sumptuous, tall, graceful things came alive in the dark, lifted their massive iron legs, and knowing they were finally alone, came together to celebrate their own magnificence. Communicating in the steely language of metal, known only to themselves, they might even have included their near neighbors, the enormous construction cranes sitting atop Doyle Drive, resting from their strenuous day of lifting concrete slabs. The world of enormous sculptural art meeting the universe of huge, utilitarian construction cranes. They did look like they came from the same family, somehow. So I fantasize that the late-night shenanigans had to include them all.
Why? Because in those gigantic, monstrous works was such vitality, with their shapes suggesting something human, limbs outstretched, legs straddling acres of land at a time, it seemed that in a certain magic hour of the night, they simply had to move. And the music they might have danced to?
Well, talk about heavy metal!
Or perhaps Men Without Hats’ 1980s protest hit, “The Safety Dance”?
I prefer to imagine that they waltzed in the night’s silence, until the light of dawn awakened the city. As human activity began, the Monsters’ Ball slowly halted.
And there they’d stand for another day, fixed to their spots, transforming the urban landscape.
There’s a marvelous place in upstate New York called Storm King Art Center, whose 500 lush acres contain many monumental American sculptures, and I have enjoyed my visits. But there, the art is too spread out. One loses the monumental perspective when the spacing is too vast. Here, on Crissy Field, the di Suvero pieces certainly took up space, but because they were also contained within a certain prescribed acreage, the gargantuan intention of each work of art was glorious. And that there were eight of them, all corralled in that limited space, created an energy that was palpable.
But they still had room to dance!
Now, New York has monstrous steel structures, of course, works of art in their own right. They’re called skyscrapers. I walked among them every day for over 40 years. I loved them as well, for their utilitarian strength, their solidity, and their own kind of beauty. But I certainly never imagined them dancing. How could they, in a city that never sleeps? Someone would always be watching, and besides, all they’d have room for is a bit of swaying!
But here? Now that I’ve “entered stage left” and call San Francisco home?
I’m grateful that the city organizers and SFMOMA gave us the joy of Mark di Suvero’s fantastic, 20-ton works of art, in a public space for all to experience. And with enough room surrounding them that, yes, they could come alive and dance, if they were so magically inclined.
I only wish I could have been witness to that!