Guest post by Dan Gentile
In most of the world, going to a museum isn't an option right now due to the coronavirus pandemic, but cities around the country have taken this time as an opportunity to bring art outside. Installations that incorporate their environments, encouraging re-engagement, and reflection, have begun popping everywhere from San Francisco to San Antonio. Some intersect with nature, others celebrate the urban environment, and both offer a much-needed excuse to safely get out of the house.
Portland Winter Light (non)Festival
The Willamette Light Brigade was founded in 1986 with the mission of illuminating the city’s bridges, and as their project has grown over the decades, the Portland Winter Light Festival has become their signature event. Now in its sixth year, the two-week exhibition in February has been growing from installations centered around bridges to Lightworks that take over the entire city. This year is the largest, and appropriately the least centralized yet, with nearly 100 installations accompanied by performances and live events.
A Quiet Scene
Jerry Moss Plaza, Los Angeles
Brian Eno is not new to art installations. The iconic musician and producer behind U2 and David Bowie has dabbled in site-specific art pieces over the five decades of his career, and for his latest, he crosses the pond from his native Britain to Los Angeles. Based on his most recent collaborative album with his brother Roger titled “Mixing Colours,” the pair commissioned over 100 short films to their music, which are projected onto four giant LED screens in Jerry Moss Plaza in downtown LA, with an impressive sound system supplied by internet radio station dublab.
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
Golden Gate Park celebrated its 150th anniversary this year and proved in unexpected ways how valuable a sanctuary it is for the city of San Francisco. In addition to unveiling a giant Ferris wheel (which has unfortunately been out of commission for most of its tenure), the Park Department commissioned a light installation at the Peacock Meadow that has drawn crowds from throughout the Bay Area. The grove of tree sculptures is adorned with 2,000 LED light clusters, creating a whimsical environment to have a picnic, dance party or just bike past. Given the somewhat trippy nature of the sculptures, it’s no surprise that they previously made their debut at the Electric Daisy Carnival EDM festival.
The House Our Families Built
Various locations, New York City
Driving a 14-foot box truck around NYC is a serious challenge, one that street artist Caledonia Curry (aka Swoon) has taken up for the month of February. Alongside collaborator Jeff Stark, the truck is essentially a diorama-style sculpture of a fantastic tiny house that doubles as a stage filled with intricate cutout replicas of people and will host live 15-minute performances that cycle through the range of human emotions. It will park in different boroughs throughout the month, staging performances in heavily-trafficked areas like the Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 1 and Union Square.
Origami in the Garden
San Antonio Botanical Garden
Botanical gardens never go out of style, but green oases in the middle of urban spaces have become much more cherished now that gathering inside isn’t an option. The city of San Antonio has cultivated its 38 acres of botanical garden since 1980 and breathed new life into the area in late 2020 with a new exhibition from Santa Fe artists Jennifer and Kevin Box. Their work takes inspiration from origami for a series of metal sculptures mimicking the fragile Japanese paper art form. It’s one more feather in the cap of San Antonio, whose reputation as a hub for visual arts often gets overshadowed by headline-grabbing neighbors like Austin and Houston, but actually has one of the most vibrant art scenes in the country.
Meow Wolf's Omega Mart
Although this one is indoors, its reputation makes it worth including. The Meow Wolf collective from Santa Fe has been one of the buzziest forces in the art world since its founding in 2008, designing wildly creative art experiences with a spirit that mixes psychedelic immersive storytelling and expert craftsmanship. Their original project in Santa Fe called the House of Eternal Return was built inside a former bowling alley and is essentially an adult playground of interactive sensory installations, a choose-your-own-adventure where you might find yourself crawling through the insides of washing machines or just taking in some psychedelic eye-candy. Their second permanent space, The Omega Mart, opens in late February in Las Vegas and plays off the concept of a grocery store in which nothing is what it seems.
Atmospheric Wave Wall
Willis Tower, Chicago
In late January, Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson unveiled a new public art piece on the side of Willis Tower in Chicago, one of the city’s most iconic office buildings. The recent renovation of the building has added an above-ground park and expansive retail space, but the designers behind the tower see this new piece of art as the capstone, which mimics the colors and movement of nearby Lake Michigan. The three story facade is layered with 2,000 powder-coated steel tiles whose appearance shifts with changes in sunlight, seasons, and position of the viewer, and although there’s no mistaking the fact that you’re still staring at an office building, it definitely doesn’t look like a bad place to work.
The Bass, Miami Beach
New York City transit stations
Essential workers have been one of the demographics most affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and the City of New York’s transit staff have been exceptionally impacted. A video projected onto the digital screens at all NYC Transit stations will honor the 112 people who’ve passed away, ranging from bus operators to track workers, with photographs shared by their family members that capture the character of those recently departed. It’s a somber reminder of the true cost of the pandemic, and although a relatively simple art exhibit, still one of the most powerful in the country.