17 Jan Private funds help restore public art in S.F.
With sinewy black curves twisting toward heaven, the 30-foot-tall sculpture outside the Hall of Justice has stood as an imposing presence for four decades.
But since its installation in 1971, the artwork, crafted by sculptor Peter Voulkos, has been bruised by salty air, car exhaust, dirt and graffiti – the same forces that wear and tear at much of San Francisco’s storied outdoor public art collection.
After a $35,000 restoration this spring, “Hall of Justice,” as the piece is known, is shining again. The effort, which culminated in a rededication ceremony Friday, was the first supported by ArtCare, a new fundraising campaign aimed at refurbishing the city’s public art.
In recent years, the Arts Commission has received less city funding to maintain its public art collection of 3,500 objects, whose estimated value is $90 million.
Getting private help
So in May, the commission and the San Francisco Art Dealers Association began ArtCare to enlist private donors to help pay for repairs of 15 artworks in parks, plazas and other public spaces.
Soon to be under way is a cleaning of Keith Haring‘s “Untitled (Three Dancing Figures),” a colorful metal creation at the Moscone Center.
Others selected for maintenance include bronze sculptures by Stephen De Staebler and Jim Dine, located South of Market and created in the mid-1980s, as well as a Ruth Asawa sculpture at the Department of Public Works.
The price of each restoration depends on the damage. Robert Ingersoll Aitken’s 1904 William McKinley statue in Golden Gate Park needs a heavy coat of protection over its bronze and stone that could cost as much as $165,000.
ArtCare’s biggest backer so far is the Koret Foundation, a San Francisco philanthropy that has given $40,000. About 70 people have donated between $50 and $10,000 each, according to the commission’s development office.
With an annual fundraising goal of $100,000, the Arts Commission hopes the private sector can fill in where city government hasn’t.
In recent years, the city gave the commission $15,000 in annual capital improvement funds. Though that amount rose to $70,000 in this year’s proposed budget, Pontious says still more is needed.
“People come here from all over the world, and they come here because of San Francisco’s reputation as a creative and artistic city,” she said. “We want the art that’s out here to be continued, to be a draw for visitors and, of course, an amenity for people who live here.”
‘Trying to play catch-up’
The Arts Commission has recently faced criticism that it has mismanaged the city’s art. The Bay Citizen reported this spring that some works are damaged or missing, and that no complete inventory of the public collection exists.
The commission has been “trying to play catch-up” since the days of the city’s Arts Festival, which ran until 1986, Pontious said. There it acquired more than 700 works, but failed to properly document them.
Now the commission has three employees dedicated to cataloguing and repairing art. Come fall, it will hire a temporary part-time assistant to the registrar to help complete the inventory.
“The majority of the public collection is permanently sited, we know where it is, and it’s taken care of to the degree that we have the resources to do it,” Pontious said.
Outside the Hall of Justice, workers spent much of April and May removing stains from the Voulkos sculpture’s bronze, brass and steel exterior, burnishing it to a sheen and applying fresh wax.
As the artist’s daughter, Pier Voulkos, 58, gazed at the sharp angles and geometric shapes gleaming in the Friday morning light, she smiled.
“I see my father in it. It’s totally him,” she said. “It’s big, bold, over the top. It’s strong, just like he was.”