Public artwork in P.A. taps into states mythology
|GIANT POPPIES CAPTURE CALIFORNIAS LARGER THAN-LIFE IMAGE|
In front of a health food store
at 440 California Ave. in Palo Alto, you can now walk into a grove of ficus-sized
poppies. High overhead, their bronzed petals twirl slowly in the breeze
atop slender stems.
This powerful new public art installation in Palo Alto that revives a long-lost motif of California culture; an everyday object rendered fancifully large.
This image grows out of a deep-rooted vision of California as a place of myth. It has inspired movies and architecture, music and sculpture. It may be a fiction, but it has had tangible manifestations in the real world.
It’s a theme that has lain dormant in recent years, however, as modernism worshiped structure over culture, function over fantasy. This new sculpture awakens that theme magnificently.
A hundred years ago Californians sent postcards of SUV-sized oranges perched on railroad flatcars to their relatives back east. They were the product of trick photography, of course, but in the days before digital touch-ups, people were likely to be amazed by the apparent proof of the myth become real.
Giant objects ring true
And in the 1920’s and 1930’s California’s roadsides sprouted giant lemons, oranges and pumpkins, enormous derby hats, bulldogs and root beer barrels. These novelties were witty and eye-catching, but they were more than architectural one-liners. They tapped into a sense of what Californians believed —or wanted to believe — about their homeland. Despite obvious exaggeration, these giant objects had a ring of truth about them.
California was a region of astonishing fertility. Sights of Yosemite, the sequoia groves and the clear depths of Tahoe stretched credulity. Vast orange groves stood in the shadow of snow-capped mountains. Those postcards stretched the truth, but not much — just enough to make a point, and to articulate the emerging sense of what California was all about.
This gentle new sculpture on California Avenue, the lat-
sculpture sponsored by the ongoing Palo Alto Public Art Program, continues
that tradition. Beautifully designed and executed by Reed Madden Designs
of Oakland, it reawakens a glimpse of the bucolic innocence of California,
but coupled with a 21st century twist: It uses solar panels,
hidden within each flower, to illuminate the sculpture at night, giving
the installation the name “Sun Flowers.”
enlarged to mythic size, but rendered in a golden bronze. And they begin
to play with our own perceptions. Walking beneath these flowers, you wonder
for a moment if the poppy grew or you shrank. The value of representational
art — art that is recognizable as something, in contrast to abstract
art — is its balance of the real and the unreal. This is not really
a field of poppies; it is an imitation of the poppy’s shape, but
in materials and scale that no one could mistake for a real poppy. Yet
by simulating a poppy’s shape it evokes the associations with the
flower, seen throughout the state in carpets of orange gold. The art conjures
up a wealth of images and recollections that add to the enjoyment of the
|A sculpture of giant poppies has been installed on California Avenue in Palo Alto. The flowers serve as canopies over built-in tables, and solar panels in the blossoms illuminate the sculpture at night.|