We have a lot of great public art in Sacramento, but we’re woefully short on the kinds of large-scale works that help create a sense of place. It’s time to think big.
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And yes, at 83, he’s still working. What could he do here? In the ’80s, he created a 51-foot-long and 29-foot-high sculpture of a spoon topped with a cherry in Minneapolis. Perhaps he could fashion a giant fork concept here for our newly self-designated “Farm-to-Fork Capital” moniker.
From a pragmatic standpoint, while Oldenburg’s pieces can easily top $1 million, it’s a far cheaper form of civic branding than a $100 million skyscraper or a $50 million bridge.
Or let’s pay homage to some of our city’s greatest creative minds. How about a 30-foot-high gumball machine, sucker or slice of pie based on Wayne Thiebaud’s luscious food paintings?
We could also honor the work of Sacramento native Ray Eames who, with her husband Charles, dominated mid-century modern furniture design with their iconic molded plywood chairs. There’s actually a curious history of massive public artworks around the world fashioned in the forms of chairs. Geneva, Switzerland is home to a 39-foot-high three-legged chair, and Manzano, Italy boasts a 60-foot chair.
Imagine a massive Eames chair—the rocker, perhaps, or the lounge chair and ottoman—welcoming visitors to the city. It would be written about in every design publication in the world.
But in addition to creating permanent public artworks here, Sacramento would also be wise to follow San Francisco’s lead by emulating our Northern California cousin’s practice of transforming the public plaza in front of its civic center into a rotating sculpture gallery, with large-scale works by international artists taking residence there for six to 12 months at a time.
One possible spot for such a venue might be on Capitol Mall, a woefully underused urban space in desperate need of an extreme artistic makeover. Using it as a temporary public space for monumental artworks can make an immediate impact while the city looks for a permanent design solution.
Another urban canvas could be the spot where the sad, perpetually waterless fountain sits across the street from the front of the Capitol, wedged between the historic State Treasurer’s building and the State Library and Courts buildings. It’s ideally situated to frame a piece of public art with pedestrian access and to take advantage of its proximity to the Capitol with all of its tourists.
We also have the $450 million dollar Sacramento Criminal Courthouse set to break ground in the railyards in 2016. The Administrative Office of the Courts, which is overseeing the project, says there’s currently no budget for public art and, since the state will be constructing it, they don’t need to adhere to local public art guidelines. The city and county should challenge that and fight for a major piece of art for what will be the most expensive building ever constructed in Sacramento.
But it’s also critical that private donors and foundations step forward to support great public art, too, like Gap founders Donald and Doris Fisher did with Oldenburg’s Cupid’s Span in San Francisco.
Wherever we decide to place our monumental public artworks, there’s no time to waste. Now, while artist and construction fees are lower, is the time to lay the groundwork for multiple international design competitions. That process alone can take years from the planning to implementation stages. Let’s not use the Great Recession as an excuse for not getting started. After all, dreaming big is free.
With a little luck, large-scale sculptures in Sacramento will start multiplying like rabbits.