City commissions two local artists to install work at new Kings arena

Locals Gale Hart and Bryan Valenzuela chosen out of 135 applicants from throughout Northern California

Out of 135 applicants, a panel commissioned local artist Bryan Valenzuela to install his work at the new Kings arena.

Out of 135 applicants, a panel commissioned local artist Bryan Valenzuela to install his work at the new Kings arena.


A river of blue- and gold-colored glass spheres suspended above a concourse. Giant darts and a disassembled dartboard on a walkway near L Street. A sound sculpture hidden in a plaza garden. These three ideas were recently greenlit by a panel of art experts to be commissioned as public art at the new Kings arena.

Some 135 artists from all over Norther California applied for the projects, and two of the finalists hail from right here in Sacramento. They’ll be joined by an artist from San Francisco to create and install works alongside modern-art superstar Jeff Koons at the Golden 1 Center.

Midtown artist and musician Bryan Valenzuela learned this past Friday that the panel had finally approved his presentation. “The potential to realize this thing that I’ve been thinking about and dreaming about for five months, that’s awesome, that’s wild,” he told SN&R on Monday.

Valenzuela’s project, titled “Multitudes Converge,” is a three-dimensional installation that will go indoors near the arena’s escalator wells at the complex’s L Street entrance. With a price tag of $350,000, his piece will include more than 400 blown-glass spheres, suspended as high as 40 feet above the ground and extending longer than half the length of an NBA basketball court.

“I’m really excited. I’ve never done a large-scale sculpture like this,” Valenzuela said.

The arena art commissions are also a massive undertaking for the city.

Shelly Willis, head of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, which oversees city-sponsored public-art projects, agreed that the opportunity to place public art at four locations at the arena is special.

“Every project is unique and has its own character,” she explained. “But the scale of this project, and the timeline of this project, is very unique to my experience.”

SMAC, of course, has overseen significant public-art programs in the past, such as the $6 million worth of installations at Sacramento International Airport’s Terminal B.

A city ordinance mandates that development projects involving city monies set aside a percentage of their budgets for public art. The amount at the new Kings arena originally was $5.5 million.

That’s a lot of coin. But, last year, city council voted to spend it all—and more—on one purchase: “Coloring Book No. 5,” an 18-foot-tall sculpture of Piglet, from the Winnie the Pooh books, to be created by art-world legend Koons. The price for the pig was $8.5 million, though, so three Kings owners—Vivek Ranadive, Kevin Nagle and Phil Oates—kicked in $1 million apiece to commission it.

The problem was that the Koons blew the entire public-art budget for the arena. Enter Marcy Friedman, whose son Mark is developing the Golden 1 Center: People close to the Koons deal tell SN&R that she was the driving force behind the “Coloring Book” purchase. And, so as to seal the deal, she donated $1.5 million to the city to pay for additional arena-art projects.

Friedman’s generosity didn’t entirely quell outrage over the Koons, however, and many criticized the council for the expenditure. SMAC had coordinated public meetings on the decision to purchase the Koons, but was also dinged by council members for insufficient public outreach.

To that end, the process for requesting proposals for the four remaining public-art spots was widely publicized, and 135 artists applied for the gigs by the July 2015 deadline.

A panel including Friedman, Crocker Art Museum Director Lial Jones and seven other art experts narrowed that group down to 17 finalists, each of whom were given $3,000 to present ideas this past October. These presentations were open to the public. Perhaps surprisingly, a representative from the Kings did not sit on the panel.

And now this week, after nearly a year of work, three finalists have been chosen: Valenzuela, longstanding central-city artist Gale Hart, and San Francisco’s William Fontana. City council was scheduled to approve Hart and Fontana’s contracts this past Tuesday, and Valenzuela’s should be finalized by the month’s end.

Artist Hart told SN&R that she’s never had an opportunity like this in her decades-long career.

“I have not done anything this big by any stretch,” she said. “It was so wide open. I could do anything that I’ve never been able to afford to do.”

Her piece, not yet titled, involves giant dart sculptures and a dismantled dartboard. Arena visitors will interact with the piece as they walk toward the entrance: They’ll see a dart shooting up to the sky, random numbers on the sidewalk, a dartboard on the ground and a bull’s-eye on the palm of a hand. Passersby will also see the large darts and numbers as they pass Fifth Street. Hart says she will use fiberglass, steel, concrete and terrazzo to complete the work, and her approved budget is $283,000. She’ll receive a 15 percent artist fee, which is standard on public art, and her installation deadline is October.

She says the biggest challenge was coming up with an idea that complemented the arena but also stood on its own. “At first I was like, ’What the hell? I don’t even know what I can do with this,’” she admitted.

She quickly zeroed in on the deconstruction of sports and games. “The piece is about taking a game apart, and asking questions about competition,” she explained. “Why are there no numbers on the dart board? Why is the bull’s-eye not there?”

SMAC’s Willis called Hart the real deal. “She’s an incredible artist,” she said.

S.F.-based artist Fontana’s piece also will be installed outside the arena. Consisting of 34 weatherproof speakers, which will be strategically hidden in planters on the arena plaza and on walls that face the planters, a city report describes the piece as an “immersive sound experience.” Fontana envisions the speakers playings sounds from Sacramento’s landscape: birds, insects, the wind passing through trees, and even noises from Kings games. He is a major regional artist and his piece is being commissioned for $330,000.

The fourth location for public art will be LED boards on and inside the arena. Willis says her vision for the LED project has evolved since last year, however, and now she hopes to commission multiple artists to display their work there for the first five years of the arena’s life. She also hopes to collaborate with local schools to show student work, and also borrow art from museums and collectors. The city of Boston does a similar thing with their LED screens at its convention center. Her deadline looms: October of this year.

Is that date hard and fast? “Oh yes,” she said, then laughed. “I mean, we’re going to try. These projects take on lives of their own. These are original works of art!”

Installation of the Koons is on schedule for September. And the only remaining contract to be approved is Valenzuela’s, which council should greenlight in the coming weeks.

That’s good news for the artist: He’ll need the money to begin work, including flying to Germany, where the legendary Franz Mayer of Munich glassmakers will hand-blow his 400 spheres. This will take at least three months; he hopes to ship them to Sacramento by the end of July. During that time, he’ll also continue collaborating with structural engineering firms and architects on the install.

Valenzuela says his initial inspiration for the piece was Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai’s ocean-wave paintings. That got him thinking about the Sacramento and American rivers, and how they are the “DNA of the city.”

He says he didn’t focus on his work being inside a sports arena. “I just thought more about the region,” he said. “Something evocative of the area we live in.”

When the work is completed and installed this October, game attendees will enter the arena on L Street and look upward to see the glass spheres cascading above them, like two rivers converging into one. As people make their way up the escalator to the second concourse, some of the spheres will be closer, “flowing” overhead. And, when they finally make it to the second level, the art will take on a new perspective: It will be at eye-level. A nice reward for those in the cheap seats.

“If you’re going to sit in the nosebleeds,” Valenzuela explained. “You’ll get a whole different angle.”