International Orange: Art for the Golden Gate Bridge at 75

Today we look at the ongoing International Orange exhibition here in San Francisco. As part of the celebrations for the 75th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, sixteen artists were invited to create new works in response to the bridge. The results ranged from very concrete interpretations to more conceptual, and focused a variety of aspects from the iconic color to the architecture to the surrounding environment. All of the works were brought together at Fort Point in the shadow of the bridge for the show.

The bridge itself is a work of art on display at Fort Point, with unique views of the architectural detail that one does not see in the standard postcard shots.

The first formal piece to catch my attention was the sound-and-video installation by renowned multimedia artist Bill Fontana. It was in a dark alcove off the main courtyard of the fort, and focused primarily on sound derived from sensors and microphones that Fontana placed at various points on the bridge and Fort Point along with a live video of the underside of an expansion joint of the bridge. The result was an immersive aural experience anchored by the percussive rhythm of traffic over the expansion joins, the bridge’s cables and the waves at the shore. These elements worked together into a polyrhythmic “composition”, while the video helped orient the listener to the context of the bridge. I found Fontana’s piece to be both technically impressive (e.g., microphones on the bridge) and a captivating listening experience.

Several of the artists made literal use of the international orange color. Artist Stephanie Syjuco‘s installation simulates the typical souvenir store with mass-produced objects in that color, arranged in displays on tables and shelves.

The objects appear as those one might expect in the souvenir shop of an art museum (or next to the Golden Gate Bridge, for that matter), but the uniform color and lack of labeling gives it a strange quality, reminding the viewer that this is not an ordinary shop. It leaves space for the viewer to question the role of shops and commoditization in art without participating in it. Nothing was for sale – though visitors were encouraged to take a free postcard, which showed a solid international orange color field.

Anandamayi Arnold created seven paper dresses in the style of the Fiesta Queens from the original 1937 opening of the bridge – while most of them had the traditional colors and patterns associated with the style, the most striking one was entirely colored in international orange.

I am pretty sure the life-size dresses were in fact wearable, as I saw Arnold wearing either the piece shown above or one like it at ArtMRKT a few weeks before the opening of the exhibition.

Another project that directly featured the international orange color covered the railings overlooking the inner courtyard with swags of orange bunting that were created by female veterans in collaboration with artist Allison Smith. Orange textiles were also a part of Pae White’s “digitally woven tapestries” based on photographs of the fog that is more often than not part of the environment in and around the bridge.

The environment was a major theme of several other projects as well, as artists turned their attention away from the bridge itself to the surrounding water, air and land. Photographer David Liittschwager created an installation that examined the life within one cubic foot sections of water below the bridge. The result is a series of detailed images of life large and small mounted on cubes.

The images themselves could have easily been at home in a science museum rather than an art exhibit, but it is the way the dark pedestals are arranged and their contrast with the brick hallway that makes it art.

Camille Utterback presented an ambitious piece that used digital displays and custom software to create dynamic visual models of the patterns of water flow in the San Francisco Bay. Like Fontana’s work, it was presented in a dark alcove where the displays shown brightly with undulating patterns, but small portals in the wall allowed the viewer to contrast the actual flow of water under the bridge with the historical model. Abelardo Morell explored light and shadow with his camera-obscura installation. A pinhole is used to expand light from outside the fort in a large but grainy image characteristic of this old form of photography.

Other projects were more conceptual, drawing inspiration and organization from history and social context surrounding the bridge and the surrounding area. Cornelia Parker’s sculpture Reveille featured two bugles, one flattened and no longer playable. The piece is a a comment on Fort Point’s history – it was never called into action. Rather than hearing the sound of the bugles, we hear the acoustics of the vault with the wind and echoes of other visitors. The light also plays off the shapes creating more flattened copies of the instruments.

“Artist, historian, and urban strategist” Jeannene Przyblyski produced a virtual radio station K-BRIDGE that presents numerous stories, ideas and sound experiences suggested by the bridge, some of which are factual and some of which are not. The station is broadcast acoustically from a live installation as well as over WiFi to mobile devices and streaming on the internet. You can read and listen to samples here.

The installation is an interesting blend of old an new, with vintage “On Air” sign and wooden details as well as modern electronics for digital storage and wireless networking.

There are more pieces in the show that are not covered by this article. Overall, I am glad I was able to experience this artistic part of the 75th anniversary celebration, and in particular getting to see the pieces within the immediate environment of the bridge itself. The exhibition continues through October, so there is still plenty of time to see it.

3 thoughts on “International Orange: Art for the Golden Gate Bridge at 75

  1. The bridge looks really good for a 75 yr old. 🙂
    Too bad the items in the ‘store’ aren’t for sale. Some of those items look interesting.

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