Palo Alto Art Commission picks Szabo fountain Around Town, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Jan 20, 2011 at 10:47 pm
An abstract, vertical fountain designed by local artist Michael Szabo will replace the aged fountain at the end of California Avenue, the Palo Alto Puvlix Art Commission decided by a 5-1 vote Thursday night. The decision went against an opinion poll in which a traditional design was heavily favored by Palo Alto residents who voted, by 130 votes to 208. Related story (with images):
■ [Web Link 'Traditional' Cal Ave. fountain favored in voting]
Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, January 20, 2011, 10:21 PM
Posted by Disappointed, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 20, 2011 at 10:49 pm
So much for public input into public art! This whole "vote" was just a charade to make the Palo Alto Public Art Commission appear to care about what the public wants. It's still business as usual. The city council needs to rethink the usefulness of its art commission.
Posted by Dave, a resident of another community, on Jan 20, 2011 at 11:13 pm
Following the lead of the public opinion poll sounds like a very stupid idea. Frankly I'd be rather annoyed if art was picked based on the fact that most people preferred a specific piece. Was Van Gogh appreciated during his lifetime? No.
Furthermore, I'd be willing to bet that the majority of people who answered this mysterious "public opinion poll" were old fogeys who have nothing better to do than to answer questions when someone stops them on their way down the street.
Posted by Henry, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 7:08 am
I am disappointed. So much for the open process in Palo Alto... This actions shows how corrupt the system is. If the public opinion is in favor of the Szabo design, the commissioners would certain have used it as a reason for their vote. The fountain is a public art that is supposed to serve the public and not the commissioners.
Posted by Nancy Brown, a resident of the Evergreen Park neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 8:11 am
Palo Alto Art Commission, what are you thinking and how dare you?
There was quite a bit of excitement in the car on the way to school this AM.
You asked for our opinion and then ignored us? My two teens and I cast one family vote on the fountain, and then celebrated when our vote matched the MAJORITY of the other votes cast and actually debated going to the meeting last night, but no, the public (MEMBERS of a DEMOCRACY) had spoken and it would be boring - and now we are so sorry!
I hope the City Council reconsiders this decision - on principle, cost, or simply self-preservation!
Posted by Mary G, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 8:25 am
In following the news releases and comments on this issue, I do not see anywhere a statement about where the 40,000 dollars will come from. Does anyone out there know? I also voted for the traditional fountain - cheaper and pretty and reuses some materials. Too bad we, the people, don't count for much.
Posted by Still Connected Former Resedent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 10:05 am
I have been reading, with much interest, about all the Palo Alto politics, and the lack of trust in public compitance. This topic is no different from all the rest concerning California Ave. The murchants and residents of the California Ave neiborhood have been consistantly ignored. You lost the trees, your loosing a driving lane (forcing overflow traffic onto the other side streets), you lost the majority oppinion for the fountain, and now you've lost your voice. So this is the kind of city I am wanting to move back to? My parents still live there in the same house I was raised and lived until 2003. I'm wanting to move back. But, now, I'm have second thoughts. Maybe I should just stay out in the cold Mid-West were at least we are listend to.
Posted by Dan, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 10:21 am
Very dis-ingenuous for the city to ask input and then discard it. If they already knew what they wanted, than don't waste our time asking opinions. And I wouldn't call the choice "contemporary", I would call it "modern". This is just another example of how the powers-that-be in our city wanting meaningless modern art as focal points, and I don't understand why (look at the monstrosity at the corner of Page Mill and El Camino - it's a soccer park, guys. Ignoring the public on this case was even worse wen you see that a big percentage of the public votes for the Szabo design came from outside of the city. Why not listen to Palo Alto residents?
Posted by M Wolf, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 10:33 am
Predictable but still I am speechless. First the city rapes the street with the tree removal, then they waste money on a survey that's ignored. Now the public must live with a fountain chosen by a handful of people that have no taste.
btw the survey was difficult to navigate, no wonder the response was slim. How much did the survey cost the city?
Posted by Adrienne Mayor, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 10:43 am
This decision certainly does make a "great statement for the city" --it is consistent with other commission decisions grounded in utter disreagard for public opinion and residents' desires for a plain traditional fountain. The "public vote" was a sham. I am so embarrassed already by the ridiculous and offensive outdoor metal "public" sculptures on California Street!
Posted by A Citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 11:14 am
Do we not live in a Republic? Teenagers are being taught we live in a Democracy?
If the United States has become a Democracy, how can this vote be democratic with only 1% of the population voting? That's 99% with no opinion.
Palo Alto has an art commission, composed of volunteers that know what they're doing in the art world, and they are given a budget to make these decisions. So let's allow them to do their jobs, or we can apply for the commission & put in all the volunteer hours they donate to us. Hours and hours.
It should be interesting to see if THIS council has more guts than the last one did, 9 members that got the vapors and over-reacted, at the slightest hint of even a smidgen of citizen unrest.
1% of Palo Alto citizens voted? A snoozer. There hasn't been a drop in that dilapidated fountain for two years. Just bring water.
Posted by Public Art Supporter, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 11:26 am
I am pleased that the Szabo fountain has been selected by the Art Commission,but what was the point of a public "vote" if the results were completely ingnored? This undermines public confidence in our city management.
Posted by jane, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 11:37 am
If the Council appointed Public Art Commission members for their artistic sense, why have a public poll in the first place? I suspect many of us who voted for the traditional fountain did so because we could see splashing water--a key ingredient in my notion of a fountain. I'm sure the more artistic sculpture will look fine, especially with visible water. The bad decision was to do a public poll.
Posted by South PA Neighbor, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 11:41 am
I'm delighted they've picked the Szabo fountain; I also voted for it. Palo Alto needs to move along into the 21st century with cutting edge art. Unfortunately, there are too many old fuddy duddies in Palo Alto who just want the status quo.
I love the Szabo sculpture in Mitchell Park at the end of the long walk bordered by red leaf maples. His fountain will be magnificent, and with that large curb is less likely to be damaged by vehicles.
Posted by Anon., a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 11:48 am
It's ugly and undistinguished as well. This is the kind of fountain that goes in the plaza of a big corporate complex ... and that is the vibe it will put out - nothing appropriate for California Ave., especially down at the far end by the underpass to the park. A bad choice made by corporate-minded people no doubt.
Posted by Anon., a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 11:51 am
About as good a choice as the so-called fountain in Lytton Plaza, which just takes up space on the corner and looks stupid. The decision-makers for Palo Alto really have don't have any artistic or fun attitude at all, this is corporate style all the way.
Posted by Anon., a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 11:56 am
> I am so embarrassed already by the ridiculous and offensive outdoor metal "public" sculptures on California Street!
I have to agree with that, if you look at it, it is like, here is a bunch of weird stuff ... which might be OK if it was in and out and temporary, but we have to look at this weirdo junk forever ... that is like Palo Alto art ... it used to be kind of cute, not it is a subtle reminder that the corporate people are going to do what they want and thumb their noses as everyone else who wants a more small time type of statement.
This city is well into "corporate creepy" these days, pretty soon anything else will be just a fading memory ... along with free will, democracy and good taste and good judgement.
Posted by NCC, a resident of the Evergreen Park neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 12:12 pm
I applaud the PAPAC for their decision on the Szabo fountain. With it's lovely graceful lines and contemporary design, it will be the perfect "end point" for an updated California Avenue and a 21st century welcome to those disembarking from Caltrain.
Posted by Observer, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 12:17 pm
I'm so disappointed. What a hideous fountain! We won't be hanging out there. The only good point is, it's a perfect counterpoint to the hideous thing in the ballet skirt with the clock down the street. Hasn't anyone ever seen the awful worm he made at Mitchell Park? I'll be following the careers of those who voted against public preference, and who have terrible taste. Why are they on this commission?
Posted by For the traditional fountain, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 12:33 pm
We were only given 2 weeks to vote. I was excited when I saw that the majority voted for the one that looked most like the one many of us loved- and was only needing to be replaced for structural reasons.
The commission has voted in odd art: the metal infant with a face in the stomach, the car with wings, the two odd shapes on one of the over passes. And here we go again- another bad choice. Many of us like traditional things. This structure looks like small, bent trees without branches leaning up to the sky. And it is more expensive. I hope that the city council will weigh in and support the fountain that received the majority of votes. Even the majority of posters here are for the traditional style. I just read Dan's post- I also think that resident votes should count more than nonresident votes.
Posted by Palo Alto neighbor, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 12:41 pm
Given the small sample size relative to the Palo Alto population, there is a margin of error that makes the two top proposal results equivalent. In other words, the results do not have enough statistical significance to say that one "won" over the other. There could also have been a bias in responses. I didn't even know about this poll. Who were the voters? Were they all friends of the sculptures? The results could have been skewed by things like this.
At any rate, let's stop this crazy whining. It's a fountain, and both choices were nice. Let's move on!
Posted by M Wolf, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 12:52 pm
It seems fair to me that the opinion of those folks that use the CA Ave Caltrain and the pedestrian/bicyclist underpass should carry extra weight. We're the ones that will pass by this disastrous reminder 5-7 days/week. The poll could have been added to the Greenpeace canvasser's clipboards at Mollie Stone.
Posted by Paul, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 12:53 pm
You ain't seen the end of this, folks. When this goes to the city council for final approval, the art commission will state that "it selected this design after soliciting public input." Period. Councilmembers who don't know the backstory love that talk about public input and will duly approve the choice.
The city council can override the art commission, if it's motivated. Your only option is to be there in force at the council meeting where this is supposed to be approved, and speak up about this violation of public trust. DO NOT base your case on the fountain being ugly (that's real easily for the council to blow off), hammer on the bait and switch.
Posted by Judith, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 12:56 pm
I have 2 comments:
1. I think many people are confusing an opinion poll with a vote. Art selection is not a property of democratic government.
2. The drawings presented for people to decide their preferences were approximate sketches. It takes someone with experience in translating drawings into 3D to make an informed choice. That is why there are qualifications for appointment to the Pubic Art Commission.
Posted by neighbor, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 2:06 pm
It's amazing how some want to discount others' votes based on perceived age (old "fogeys)). First, you have no idea who voted, so the comment has no basis in fact, and, second, so what? Please don't diminish the value of someone's opinion because it happens to be different than yours. I'm sure you would not want to hear someone dismiss your opinion as irrelevant because you are a "young whipper-snapper")! Someday, like it or not, you will be an "old fogey".
The votes that count should be those who are local -- they pay for things and are the ones who live with decisions made. 62% had a first choice that was ignored. Yes, commissioners have expertise, but when it comes down to it, it's still a matter of personal opinion/preference. I also believe commissioners, as artists, are more likely to base their opinion on their appreciation of and response to the artistic piece itself and less likely to consider the environment in which it is placed and the community "sense" about the art. This is where public opinion should have mattered.
I like the design, but don't believe a modern design belongs on California avenue. It would fit best in proximity to more contemporary buildings. And for an engineer to say they don't believe something is structurally sound based on what is described only as a sketch seems to be, IMHO, a back-door way to justify dismissing public opinion.
Posted by Bad Move PAPAC, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 2:55 pm
What a crazy decision by the art commission. Since the vast majority of posters and voters selected something else I wonder why the art commission voted against. They seem to make strange decisions.
I wonder if the art commissioners have been to the fountain site. Have they seen the street? Do they walk around the neighborhood?
I like the Szabo fountain, just not in that location. The chrome is extremely abrupt and abrasive to the eye in the context of the location. All of the colors there are neutral and natural. The apartments and condos are tan and trees green and brown. The rather awful bike lockers are tan. There's nothing in that area that's complimentary to tie the chrome to, apart from maybe the locks on the bike lockers.
Posted by Margaret, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 3:36 pm
It's not that it's a particularly bad sculpture, it's just that it will look ridiculous there. What's with the "art" on California Ave? It's all irrelevant, ugly (except perhaps the california poppies outside country sun) and out of place. Like other posters have said: put all the sculptures in one place, where people who like that sort of pre-modern ugliness can gawp at it, and plant more trees instead.
Posted by Mrs. Marilyn Tomsky, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 3:41 pm
I read all the excuses by the council why they choose to ignore our votes, our voice and chose the second best design. It is our money and our votes, that were coldly ignored. The chosen fountain is really ugly! Comes the next city council election I'm going to remember this decision. You hurt so many of us.
I'm wondering if there is some sort of obligation to this sculptor?
Posted by Susan, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 3:47 pm
I predicted yesterday in my comments that the Art Commission would spit in the eye of Palo Altans. And they did, indeed. The Art Commission is a disgrace and should be disbanded. The fountain the Art Commission selected for Lytton Ave Plaza is atrocious. But, it makes a good bidet for the homeless. Poor California Avenue. It can't catch a break.
Posted by Judy, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 3:57 pm
Although I support the Szabo choice of fountain and voted for it, I'm mystified as to why it was put to a vote of the people of Palo Alto on Peak Democracy in the first place; if the Art Commission was not going to abide the ultimate vote tally.
If you're not going to accept the will of the people don't put it to a vote of the people - Dhah!!
Posted by Nayeli, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 4:59 pm
Who said that we had to have a fountain?
How much would it cost to transplant a full-grown giant Coastal Redwood tree to that location? It doesn't have to be 300 feet tall, but is there a way to transport a 50-100 foot tree? I mean, they do this at 30 Rockefeller Center every Christmas.
I would ADORE it -- much more than any fountain! I think that it would attract people to the location (more than a fountain). It would bring FRESH AIR to the location...and some nice shade too.
Posted by jb, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 5:29 pm
I recently made my first visit to Seattle where the public art was remarkable. Maybe we just don't have a very wide or exciting pool of artists to engage in these parts. After all, the cost of living here is "corporate" prices for just about everything. And don't get me started with how much variety there is in available merchandise once you shop outside the Bay Area.
Posted by SuperD, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 5:32 pm
I did not vote in the poll, but if I had, I would have selected the Szabo. Give some credit to the public art commission - they put alot of thought and analysis into their decision. If they had to please everyone, we wouldn't have any fountain at all. I think the art commission made the right choice given all considerations.
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 5:41 pm
It isn't that I don't particularly like this fountain or that I preferred the traditional fountain that bothers me. What bothers me is that we were given to understand that the people would be voting on which to choose. We voted and then we were ignored.
If you were going to ignore our vote, why ask for it? If we are asked for our opinions then we expect to get what was the highest vote.
Now you are asking for input on trees. Why should we bother? No one listens to what we say. If you aren't going to bother listening to us then we are not going to bother giving input on trees.
Posted by Dan, a resident of the Southgate neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 5:47 pm
I voted in the fountain "poll". It was conducted by a 3rd part company. I'm sure they didn't do it for free. I'd like to know how much the City of Palo Alto paid for the poll, given the it was meaningless.
BTW, City Council. Is it true we paid a 3rd party company $400k for the nifty feature on our CPAU bill that compares our energy usage to our neighbors?
Posted by anciana, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 5:52 pm
Apart from the fact that I don't think our city should be putting "water features" in every project, new or old, because in a dry climate like ours, it is a waste of our very precious and not-too-dependable supply of water, I really like the choice of the Szabo.
Posted by Commander McBragg, a resident of another community, on Jan 21, 2011 at 6:11 pm
The choice was between "The Claw Hand", "The Celery Stalks", and "The Fountain". The celery stalks won. To me, the fountain is cleary more aesthetically pleasing. I'm guessing that there are a lot of vegetarians on the Art Commission
Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford, on Jan 21, 2011 at 6:19 pm
It seems the Palo Alto way to ask citizens' opinions, then do exactly what they like, ignoring the majority view. And how were we to even know about this poll?
Ah well, it can't be as bad as the appalling Go Momma--let's hope. Mr. Charles always reminds me to avert my eyes as pass this dubious work of work. Though with the trees gone, our visits to California Ave. are increasingly rare.
Posted by anonymous, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 7:25 pm
Thanks for bringing me some humor with the mention of Go Mama. It never fails to make me shake my head in wonder and chuckle. Anyone know how much that thing cost??? So dreadful one just can't believe it! I have posted about 3X in past about that thing. And, yes, I DO love ART.
Posted by Helen, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 7:35 pm
I don't think a fountain is appropriate at the end of California Avenue. The backdrop behind it is bike lockers, a cement underpass, and train tracks. A fountain should be surrounded by greenery and in a gracious, parklike setting. We certainly don't have a parklike setting along California Ave. The trees were cut down. But California Ave does have weird public art.
Posted by Bob, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 9:06 pm
The expenditure of city monies ultimately comes down to City Council approval ...and the CC is losing control big time.
The California Avenue project from beginning to its hopefufy soon end is at best and worst 'controversial'. Then there is the cost of this fountain survey, then people make a choice, and then this basically nameless (how many residents know their names) Art Commission starts acting like the cultural "Supreme Court". They are volunteers, not elected, and the Arts Commission's 'track record" since inception has been controversial and very poor. It's time for the CC to step into this or also suffer egg-on-face. The whole thing is sadly "laughable". "How Palo Alto..."
And on another subject, just what did this public utility study on "you-use-more water-than-your neighbor-survey cost? There have been as many foul ups in Utilities as there have been in Public Works. The City Council needs to come down off of its Green Cloud and start running this city.
Posted by Andrea, a resident of the Evergreen Park neighborhood, on Jan 21, 2011 at 9:42 pm
Anyone else want a legit RE- Vote!?? Or maybe we should protest at the fountain until we're heard. I am so tired of PA and all that its become. Not the place it used to be. PA is trying to portray this image of something it isnt. The art on Cal Ave is just ugly and there is too much of it and it was too $$. No one likes it or wants it there. Why doesnt the art commission ask the merchants and the Evergreen Park, etc residents..the ones who have to see it everyday and listen to us. Before they ruin Cal Ave anymore than they have already. What is it with this city?! It used to be a decent place to live. Now I just grow more disgusted with it every day.
Posted by Observer, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Jan 22, 2011 at 12:20 am
I call for a dethroning of these 'art commission' people. The taxpayers of Palo Alto who pay for the public art should choose it. Any commission worth its salt would not only see their mission as to make sure that occurs, but would not foist their poor taste on us.
Posted by George, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 22, 2011 at 7:59 am
I voted for the "traditional" design, but I really thought all three were bad choices. What really bothers me, that we were led to believe that this was going to be decided by voting. I spent time and energy going to gallery to see mock-ups and making a decision. Now we find out that some people who are supposed to have "artistic sense", made the decision. What about the people the see this fountain everyday? Why turn your back on people that live in the area and having a select few people make this decision? I was willing to live with the vote... but I guess PA wasn't. I'm very disappointed in Palo Alto's handling of CA Ave from the beginning. First, they got rid of perfectly good trees... and now they are getting rid of our votes...
Posted by Alan, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Jan 22, 2011 at 9:12 am
I also like the idea of a Redwood tree there, if experts are convinced it would survive long term. That would be much better than a fountain.
I don't see much difference between this choice and the leading candidate. What really bother's me is the "car with feet" statue. It is the most grating thing anywhere in the city. Could someone please remove it.
I do like some of the art in the city, particularly the alien paintings in downtown, I would really be in favor of having that in more locations like in mid-town and Cubberly.
Posted by Observer, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Jan 22, 2011 at 11:08 am
I agree about the Redwood tree, however you can't transplant a big one as it would die. I do think a grove of perhaps five could be planted there with a path winding between them. You'd have to get rid of the concrete. In that case, by the time they became a size problem, those of us who are responsible would be long gone.
Posted by Debbie, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jan 22, 2011 at 11:08 am
I vote for a large tree or trees planted where the existing fountain now sits. Scrap the fountain idea. Besides, vandalism has always been a problem with that fountain. I hope the City Council takes a hard look at the Art Commission and fires them.
Posted by Bob, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Jan 22, 2011 at 12:17 pm
If we c could get rid of the Arts Commission, could we also get rid of - or get a qualifid - new Architectural Review Board? That collective body spanning the years brought us/allowed The Cheesecake Factory, the new Walgreen's, the garish buildings going up at the once beautiful 'Circle' on University at Alma, 800 High, and the monster complex at El Camino and Charleston. Palo Alto could have been beautiful - classic Spanish architecture or whatever, but we have a mishmash of design, garish paint allowed on new homes in 'classic' neighborhoods, the 'thing at the corner of Cowper and Seale....the list goes on. Then there is that dismal new condo complex on West Bayshore Road north of San Antonio. If you want to see a marvelous development with gorgeous single family homes, condos, townhouse, shopping, schools, parks, streets, drive down to Santa Clara and west to the new Riverwalk development out in the old Agnew Hospital area. What marvelous vision.
Posted by Observer, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Jan 22, 2011 at 6:14 pm
Amused, Doesn't your own community have anything for you to make sardonic remarks about? If you don't live in Palo Alto, then you aren't being forced to pay for tacky stuff that looks like something from a Liberace piano topper, and you don't have to live with it.
Posted by Ed, a resident of Menlo Park, on Jan 22, 2011 at 11:15 pm
It seems to me the point of having an Art Commission is to bring expertise to the table in making these decisions. As several folks have already pointed out, it was an OPINION poll not a final vote on what design to pick. Further, as others pointed out the vote was quite close anyway.
One function of art is to get people to think about the world around them a little differently than they might have otherwise. By that measure this fountain design appears to be succeeding.
There are plenty of examples of "popular" interpretation of what constitutes good design being misguided. The widely appreciated Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC is a great example. It was slammed before it was built because it was so different than anything anybody understood to be appropriate for a memorial (in fact, it was originally a student project that received a "B" grade). However, once it was built it became widely recognized as an inspired and brilliant work. This web site has a great history on that: Web Link
Now, I am NOT comparing this fountain to the Vietnam Memorial. I'm just saying that popular vote or having people judge a design by what feels familiar or comfortable already isn't a great way to create cultural advance. As another writer noted, Van Gogh would have gone nowhere if his work had been subjected to popular vote in his time. Now people have Van Gogh desk calendars and wall posters...
Posted by Observer, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Jan 23, 2011 at 9:02 am
Ed, I think you mean 'different from'. Also, if you look around Palo Alto, you'll see that the 'familiar' here is bad art. A car with legs, a girl in a ballet skirt with a clock in her belly, a huge worm - these are not only awful, but all too familiar. What you see here are people who are tired of these poor choices. Yes, one would have hoped that 'expertise' would have brought us something new and wonderful, such as the war memorial, but it did not. And incidentally, yes you are comparing this junk to that amazing piece, which shows that you don't have much of an eye either. Palo Alto is not full of bumpkins who are asking for a black light poster. Most of us are educated, well traveled, and know a piece of junk when we see one.
Posted by pat, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jan 23, 2011 at 10:39 am
From Critical Issues in Public Art: Content, Context, and Controversy Edited by Harriet F. Senie and Sally Webster:
“Art in the public domain, a sign of the power of its patrons, frequently becomes the focus for discontents that often have nothing to do with the art. Small wonder that public art and controversy seem to have been joined at birth.” Web Link
What concerns me about the “art” in Palo Alto is that there’s no context. Most of it seems out of place.
California Ave. provides a good example of a variety of pieces having little to do with each other or with the neighborhood. It’s a funky local shopping area with some terrific stores and restaurants. The poppy mural on the side of the Country Sun and the man looking at the soles of his shoes on the European Cobblery is about the only art I can think of that fits the area.
What does the wire face, the girl with the face in her belly and the carved corkscrew “tree” have to do with each other or – more importantly – with the neighborhood?
The question we should be asking is this: What is the art commission’s goal for public art? What’s the goal of the city council? Shouldn’t their goals match those of the residents?
Commissioner Trish Collins said the Szabo piece would make a "great statement" for the city and be an iconic piece of art for the community, calling it "intelligent, intriguing, interesting."
Exactly what “statement” is the art commission trying to make for the city? For us? How many would agree with Collins’ assessment of the Szabo fountain as “intelligent”? Or “iconic”?
Commissioner Larisa Usich said, "I do believe it is our choice and our verdict," and that the Szabo design aligned more with her modernist tastes.
We’re obviously getting public art that aligns with the commissioners’ personal tastes. As former councilman Jack Morton says, "It's your artistic sense the Council appointed you to use.”
I can’t find anything on the city website that indicates guidelines, goals or directives for the art commission. The website simply says:
“The Public Art Commission is responsible for administering the City of Palo Alto's Art in Public Places program. The Art in Public Places program consists of outdoor sculptures (10 murals and 21 sculptures valued at $364,000) and two-dimensional works by artists who have lived or worked in Palo Alto (207 works valued at approximately $135,000).” Web Link
Ordinance 2.18 describes Art In Public Places as: ". . . any visual work of art displayed for two weeks or more in an open City-owned area, on the exterior of any City-owned facility, within any City-owned facility in areas designated as public area, lobbies, or public assembly areas, or on non-City property if the work of art is installed or financed, either wholly or in part, with City funds or grants procured by the City… Web Link
(This same site indicates that there is precedent for selecting art by a popular vote: “In 1982, the Visual Arts Jury sponsored its second outdoor sculpture exhibition from which three sculptures were purchased, based on the results of community voting.”)
It’s pretty clear we will never all agree on a fountain or an art work. But shouldn’t we at least know how public art is being chosen and what “statement” we want to make for the city?
Posted by Why is this news, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Jan 23, 2011 at 2:44 pm
Why are the headlines dominated by what type of fountain will be built in a place that nobody goes to. There is so much going on in the world, and they keep putting all these headliners about the latest on which fountain is going to be picked. Really?
Posted by Ed, a resident of Menlo Park, on Jan 23, 2011 at 3:19 pm
A comment to "Observer" -- good catch on the grammar slip -- I agree about that. However, your focus on that detail, and your addition of an explicit ad hominem comment ("you are comparing this junk to that amazing piece, which shows that you don't have much of an eye either") indicates that you didn't read what I wrote very carefully.
If you read my original post you'll notice that I not say that this fountain design was my preferred choice, and more importantly I did NOT compare it to the Vietnam memorial.
I was just commenting on the process. To quote myself, I explicitly said "Now, I am NOT comparing this fountain to the Vietnam Memorial. I'm just saying that popular vote or having people judge a design by what feels familiar or comfortable already isn't a great way to create cultural advance.".
That's really all I was saying, and clearly I was even careful to point out I was NOT making a comparison to the memorial (thus the ALL CAPS). I find personal attacks inappropriate in this context, especially given that (1) I wasn't making that comparison, (2) it was an obnoxious comment on the face of it, and (3) you know nothing of my background or experience in this area.
Posted by local yokel, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Jan 23, 2011 at 3:57 pm
Yay, pat - I agree with everything you wrote!
As a community I think we need to decide what the purpose of our public art is. I for one do not feel that it should serve the same purpose as art in a museum. Our public art should be art that makes the public enjoy seeing it, that raises our hearts. Is there anyone in Palo Alto who enjoys seeing the face-in-her-belly girl? Why did we spend money on something that brings no joy to the people of this community?
As for the fountain, the people have spoken. We want something that possible does not make a statement, but that just makes us feel good to look at and spend time near it. I don't think that is the goal of the Art commission. But maybe it should be.
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 23, 2011 at 4:19 pm
My feeling is that public art should be something to enhance the public's enjoyment of an area. We are not talking about a memorial to someone or something. We are not talking about being educated in art. We are not even talking about making a statement about who we are. Art can and should do those things but in the right setting and venue.
If we go to an art show we expect to be educated, stretched, given something new to think about and we expect to have or acquire an opinion and understand that our opinion may differ from others including the artist. If we go to a memorial, we expect to feel something about the person(s) or event being honored and to be stretched and touched emotionally. If we go to a Plaza in front of a City Hall or Embassy or Cultural Centre, we expect to find something that says something about the people or culture in the vicinity. If we go to an airport or a rail station, perhaps we expect to see art in the context of planes or trains.
But, if we go to our local park, or shopping area, we expect to see something we can enjoy. Something we can reflect on for a moment with pleasure, rather than have to work out what the artist is saying.
The art commission can do other things in other venues. But our city parks and city streets should contain art that is pleasing and enhances our time there. It doesn't need to make a statement. It doesn't need to educate. It doesn't need to be explained. It should just be there to be enjoyed.
Posted by Alan, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Jan 23, 2011 at 8:22 pm
It would be interesting for Palo Alto Online to have a poll of what current art in the city people like most and which they dislike. I like some of the art I see around the city (i.e. alien painting) . Some of it I don't have an opinion on (i.e. girl's face), and a few (i.e. running car) I wish would disappear.
I'd like to see the results of such a poll, and maybe it could be useful to the art committee too. We could then bicker among ourselves online over the results of that poll too. :-)
Posted by Young Fogey, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood, on Jan 23, 2011 at 9:02 pm
Today's cutting-edge modern art is tomorrow's big-eyed children or dogs playing poker. Or disco ball.
Just what we need amid all the concrete, another paean to steel, all points and sharp edges. Spanish tile, glass, something latticed like sunlight dappling through the trees -- something to warm the heart rather than "challenge" the mind -- could have been very nice. I'm tired of arteests who think I need to be "challenged" at every turn.
But, of course, steel will be harder for the taggers to deface. We probably get the public art we deserve in the end -- something cold and indestructible.
Posted by local yokel, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Jan 24, 2011 at 7:21 am
@happy camper - really? You've heard someone complain about the poppies? I never ever have. That is a piece of art that seems universally beloved, along with Greg Brown's murals. While, the running car and face-in-belly seem almost wholly reviled.
I don't want to let the art commission do their job, because I don't like the job they've done. City art should be for the people, not the art commission.
Posted by Observer, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Jan 24, 2011 at 10:38 am
Ed, By bringing up the war memorial, you were making a comparison. I merely pointed out that, in spite of your denial, that's what you did. It isn't personal. I don't know you. However, it's disingenuous to bring something up, imply that those who don't like ugly 'modern' 'art' are just hankering for the familiar, and then accuse me of a personal attack when I point out what you've done. Perhaps you might benefit from reading your own post.
Posted by local yokel, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Jan 24, 2011 at 9:06 pm
@Palo Parent: I totally agree - Foreign Friends was wonderful, and the city caved to the vandals and got rid of it, while such cold and ugly art is still lining our streets. Now, if we could get Foreign Friends next to the Cal Ave fountain.... ;)
Posted by David Lieberman, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Jan 25, 2011 at 9:27 pm
And as far as the running car and face in the belly, they were chosen because the head of the art commission at the time (a Menlo Park resident, by the way) was a personal friend. In fact the purchase of public art in Palo Alto has long been corrupt.
Posted by Public Hearing Attendee, a resident of another community, on Jan 26, 2011 at 10:10 am
Palo Alto's Open City Hall is an online public comment forum with the order and decorum of a public hearing. It is not intended to be a poll or a vote. In fact, those words never appear on the user interface. Moreover, at the bottom of each page of the online comments (as well as on the PDF distributed at the Art Commission's meeting) the following is stated:
"As with any public comment process, participation in Open City Hall is voluntary. The tally and statements in this record are not necessarily a representative sample of the whole population, nor do they reflect the opinions of any government agency or elected officials."
I attended the Art Commission's Jan 20 meeting, and here's what I observed:
It was apparent that most (if not all) of the commissioners reviewed the comments from the online public comment forum in advance of the meeting. Likewise, it was apparent that most (if not all) of the four speakers in the public hearing visited the online public comment forum.
Many of the commissioners expressed their "delight" with the online public comment forum -- especially: (1) the volume of interest that it generated (in public art), (2) its "democratic", "fair" process for public input, and (3) the "amazing" quality of the comments.
The online forum provided insight to the commissioners -- and helped inform their decision. For example, it narrowed the decision from 3 to 2 proposals. Moreover, the comments from the online forum clearly influenced the commissioners. For example, several of the commissioners noted that the comments on the Szabo design struck them as most insightful and enthusiastic (as noted in the Palo Alto Online story).
Finally, while some of the speakers in the public hearing expressed concern that the online public comment forum was effectively a vote that would usurp the commissions decision making authority, the commissioners didn't view it that way. Instead, the commissioners seemed to consider the online feedback ALONG with their own "artistic sense".
In summary, the objectives of Open City Hall were achieved -- to augment public feedback, better inform the decision makers, and improve their deliberation process.
Posted by local yokel, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Jan 26, 2011 at 9:46 pm
The most prominent words I saw on the poll was that it was run by an outfit called Peak Democracy. That made me think it would work like.... wait for it.... a DEMOCRACY. In other words, a vote.
Even the text quoted by Public Hearing Attendee,
"As with any public comment process, participation in Open City Hall is voluntary. The tally and statements in this record are not necessarily a representative sample of the whole population, nor do they reflect the opinions of any government agency or elected officials."
is true of any vote. Voting is voluntary, and is not necessarily representative of the whole population. Even in our last presidential election, barely more than half of registered voters voted.
For me the proof is in the pudding. The art that has been selected over the last few years by the art commission is disliked by most Palo Altans (don't believe me? Take a poll!). Why are we trusting our future art to these so-called experts?