Art “Set Free” in Balboa Parkby Natalie Jacobs February 11, 2016
Today on the Plaza De Panama, San Diego Museum of Art Executive Director Roxana Velasquez was glowing, and not just because of the blaring sun and excessive heat.
“It is a bright day for San Diego,” she said to a crowd gathered outside the museum, “a historic day … a moment of change.”
The change is art that is more accessible, she says, art that is “free” not only in that it doesn’t cost anything to look at it, but that the art itself is on display in the open air. While you’d never see an oil painting displayed in defiance of the elements, the seven sculptures from the Museum’s collection are just the pieces for the job.
“We’re trying to ignite curiosity,” Velasquez says at the press conference.
“This is happening in a broader context to activate this public space” Councilmember Todd Gloria, who represents Balboa Park for District 3, says, “to transform it to almost a living room for our city. What was once a parking lot is now an art gallery.”
On this unseasonably warm and sunny day in the Park, blue skies contrasted with the glistening white blooms of the pear trees. A game of sculptural hide and seek reveals bronze masterpieces mounted on concrete slabs underneath the trees’ branches. The shadow in the 11 a.m. hour plays around the curves of “Mother Daughter Seated” by Francisco Zuniga. Auguste Rodin’s “The Prodigal Son” appears to worship the sun in the northwestern corner of the Plaza. “The Watchers” by Lynn Chadwick frame the courtyard as if protecting it. Luis Jimenez’s “Border Crossing” stands striking in its dissimilarity to all the other pieces. It’s the farthest from the museum and it towers above the entrance to Panama 66, the stacked figures stopped dead in their tracks with their backs to Mexico, from where they’re meant to be escaping.
Taken individually, the pieces are moving in their sizes, shapes, materials and for the time periods they represent – mostly the late 60s/early 70s but “Prodigal Son” was made in 1905 while “Border Crossing” was completed in 1989. But taken as a whole exhibition, the placement of these pieces is indicative of much curatorial consideration on the part of SDMA’s Anita Fellman. Joan Miro’s “Solar Bird” stands closest to the Museum entrance while Tony Rosenthal’s “Odyssey III” is offset just behind it, the two boasting such totally different styles that they almost bounce off one another. It would be easy to miss Jack Zajac’s “Big Open Skill” tucked into the northeastern-most corner of the Plaza, but at noon the sun beats down so hard onto it that the skull appears to fossilize on the spot.
Dana Springs, Executive Director of the Commission for Arts and Culture says the Plaza De Panama is a “symbolic location for new energies/experiences coming to this area,” citing a recent Makers Fair held in the same location. “We’re proud to support the installation of art in public places,” she says of the Commission.
“What I love about public art,” she continues, “is it’s such a great way to instill civic pride.”
The sculptures will reside here for two years. The San Diego Museum of Art completed two crowdfunding campaigns which Velasquez says raised 70 percent of the funds needed to stage this outdoor exhibition. One of those campaigns, entitled “Free the Art” and hosted on indiegogo, only raised $8,000 of its posted $20,000 goal. A portion of the money raised is being used for security specifically to ensure the safety of these sculptures. The project was completed in collaboration with SDMA and the Department of Parks & Recreation and the Balboa Park Committee, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Councilmember Todd Gloria, and the Commission for Arts and Culture San Diego. Find more information on the exhibition at the Museum’s website.