Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Upper Crust

The orderly rows of pollarded sycamore trees in San Francisco's Civic Center are coming into leaf this week.

Drawing closer to City Hall the observer notes hive-like structures woven into the tops of some of the civic sycamores.

A sandwich board supplies the Project Description:

"On February 5, 2009, artist Patrick Dougherty and a crew of five assistants began the process of creating an environmental artwork entitled The Upper Crust which consists of a series of sculptural forms made with recycled willow saplings at the Joseph L. Alioto Performing Arts Piazza, across from San Francisco's City Hall. The artist carefully weaves the recycled willow branches through the sycamore tree branches to emerge through the treetops. The sculptural forms rise to a height of approximately 8 feet above the tops of the trees. The sculptural form is created by the artist without an internal structure, wire, hardware or any outside means of attachment. The artist explains that twigs and saplings have a propensity to entangle and intertwine with everything. Dougherty bends and flexes the material resulting in a joyful and exuberant collision of art and nature in his large cocoon or hive like forms.

The sculpure will continue to evolve in appearance with the seasons as the trees begin to bear leaves in the spring and as the foliage changes color and the trees lose leaves in autumn. Three of the assistants hired for the installation are local San Francisco artists.

The willow branches used in the sculpture are a natural by-product of the pruning and life cycle of the willow trees. The saplings used range in size from finger to wrist width. The saplings were obtained from The Willow Farm in Pescadero. Some of the trees from which the saplings were obtained are more than 50 years old."

Personally, I am inclined to like this piece, but certainly not because I find it "joyful and exuberant." (And let's be frank, the writing here is pathetic and it is sad to think that somebody actually got paid for doing such clunky work.) Not joyful and exuberant, no. The willow intrusions look like heavy parasites. They clearly represent the bureaucracy across the street, ruled by wealthy patrons and assiduously smothering the green shoots of populist aspiration. A 3-D depiction of the class struggle, paid for by the rulers who are satirized. Pace the San Francisco Arts Commission.