Sacramento creatives share ideas for public art at the city's new Kings arena
Forget that pig—here are new visions for downtown
On a warm afternoon in April, Sacramento artist Anthony Padilla balances precariously atop a 10-foot ladder. He shakes an aerosol paint can, then sprays fresh coats of color onto a mural outside of the Warehouse Artist Lofts building in downtown Sacramento. The bright jungle landscape scene appears as if it’s bursting from the concrete. Padilla’s career is kind of a balancing act, too. To pay the bills, he’s simultaneously working on a handful of murals, but those will all be put on hold if he’s commissioned to create a site-specific piece of public art for the new downtown arena.
Padilla is part of a group of area artists that hopes to get a portion of a $1.5 million fund set aside for local art at the new downtown arena, which will be home to the Sacramento Kings’ home games in fall 2016. A million dollars of that was donated by artist and philanthropist Marcy Friedman, and the rest by the Kings—all to purchase art for four sites: a long wall on L Street, an open-air plaza on J Street, escalator wells inside the arena and the LED screens at the arena’s entrance.
Padilla’s idea: a solar-powered poppy sculpture that stores energy during the day and provides light and lets people charge their phones at night.
“Doesn’t that sound way better than a shiny pig?” he asks.
Padilla’s referring, of course, to the city and the Kings’ $8 million March purchase of a sculpture by New York artist Jeff Koons for the new arena. Koons is a polarizing figure in the art world, having sold works—which many think are merely low-brow kitsch—for millions of dollars.
Whether or not Koons’ “Coloring Book No. 4” sculpture, inspired by a cartoon pig, is “good” art has been debated by local artists and observers over the past few months ad nauseam. That controversy is old news by now, but one thing’s for sure: By the time the new arena opens, downtown Sacramento will have a ton of new public art.
And there’s still $1.5 million worth of art—with preference going to local artists—set to be selected in June by a panel put together by the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission.
Even though she’d like to see artists such as Padilla apply, SMAC’s executive director, Shelly Willis, says that ultimately it’s not her call to decide what art should be in the new arena, or even to select certain artists. That’s up to the panel.
“My job is not to imagine what will happen on L Street. My job is to make art opportunities possible and open it up so that people might imagine things I could never even comprehend,” she says. “To me that’s brilliant when that happens.”
Artist David Garibaldi says he’d like to see Padilla apply (and Padilla will, once SMAC releases the application as early as this month). But Garibaldi, best known for his speed-painting performances that have been showcased at NBA games and on the TV show America’s Got Talent, says the application process needs to change.
“I think it’s still important to have a vetting process, but I think what would be even cooler was if there were subjects given to the artists,” he says. “Artists are obviously inspired by themes, stories, surroundings, so look at the whole of who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going, break that theme up into sayings or words or things and give that to the artist to play with as inspiration, so that you’ll get artwork telling our story.”
Artist Marco Fuoco—whose punk-rock inspired performance art and video work back in the ’80s was recently featured in a new history book called Midtown Sacramento: Creative Soul of the City—agrees. Whatever art goes into and around the arena should reflect Sacramento, he says.
“Our community deserves better than Jeff Koons,” he says. “Jeff Koons is not a bad artist, but he does not represent our culture.”Art for all and all for art
Other artists say they don’t care whether or not the subject of the art is about Sacramento. They just want to see local art that makes people feel proud and connected.
“While I don’t think that it’s necessary for effective public art to be about the city or community in which it is placed, I think it’s important that the art is unique to that environment,” says artist and educator Joy Bertinuson.
“Just as one today cannot imagine Paris without the Eiffel Tower, if one thinks of Chicago’s Millennium Park, the hugely popular ’Cloud Gate’ comes to mind,” Bertinuson says of the British artist Anish Kapoor’s public sculpture.
In other words, monumental pieces of work, like the one Fuoco imagines putting next to the arena.
“I want to do a video monolith like the Washington Monument, 300 feet in the air, made out of video screens … everybody in the world could put something on there,” he says. “It would be on top of a big cement block covered with papyrus panels that people could paint on and do graffiti art, so everybody that came to town could even write their life story.”
Local artist Jose Di Gregorio says he may also do something with video. The veteran artist, whose work has appeared at events such as TBD Fest and places like the Warehouse Artist Lofts, will also be applying to create art for the arena. He describes his own artistic style as having a “kind of psychedelic effect where patterns are emerging from other patterns, whether they be repetitious or going from one pattern to another.”
“Like any artist, [I] feel strongly about my aesthetic and how a space could be activated with my own work, so if I were to pick one of the spots at the arena, I’d choose the LED installation,” he says. “Going from gradient colors to celestial landscape, I think it’d be a really interesting thing for the viewer to see, especially on a scale like that, especially outside, it does something—it’s kind of like a sensory experience.”
Di Gregorio says he’s going to look at the opportunity as a positive thing, but not stake too much hope in the outcome. Worst-case scenario, since he already lives in the Warehouse Artist Lofts downtown, he’s just looking forward to strolling by to look at all of the arena’s public art with his daughters. Of course, if his work is a part of that, that’ll be “icing on the cake,” he says.
Another pair of artists living in the Warehouse Artist Lofts is seemingly a natural fit for the project: Sofia Lacin and Hennessy Christophel, who own LC Studio Tutto (formerly LC Mural & Design).
The pair has many large-scale murals around town, including a recent one called “Contagious Color,” which they painted underneath a bridge on 12th Street, between B and C streets. It’s a work of abstract art bringing light, bright colors to what was formerly a dark tunnel leading into downtown Sacramento from the Dos Rios Triangle neighborhood.
“Since the downtown arena area is kind of going to be the new official urban core of Sacramento, I’m really interested in seeing artists explore what urban means here,” says Christophel. “We’re really excited about different ways that we’re seeing artists really step up in the community.”
“We want to see more art, period,” adds Lacin. “That’s why we called our recent piece ’Contagious Color’; we want it to be something that really catches on and keeps spreading throughout the city.”
The pair is waiting to decide on an arena idea until after they choose the site with which they’d like to work.
“Our work is very site-specific, so once we narrow it down to a space we’re applying to, that’s when we begin to develop our design ideas and concept,” says Christophel. “I think that we’re going to think really big.”
Big certainly fits what the artists are doing with their next site-specific mural at the downtown farmers market, “Bright Underbelly.” Here, their aim is to have the 70,000 square-foot piece reflect the seasons and agriculture, and brighten up the market, they say. The hope is for the piece to be complete before the Farm-to-Fork Festival in the fall.
But public art isn’t all about just large-scale murals and sculptures. Other artists say they want to see more platforms for temporary art, performance art and street art, too. Artist Danny Scheible, founder of Tapigami, a medium that uses masking tape to create art installations, says he wants to see a dedicated public performance space incorporated somewhere around the arena.
“Almost every major city has a street artist program where there’s street performers and there’s artists selling wares on the street,” he says. “And in Sacramento, you can’t sell your art on the street, you can’t play music on the street without pulling a permit. It’s very difficult.”
Scheible points to Gather: Oak Park and This Midtown as examples of cool local events that incorporate artists. He imagines a Sacramento where the Concerts in the Park series at Cesar Chavez Plaza, the downtown farmers market and perhaps even events at the arena can make space for artists, too. He’s worried that if there aren’t enough public outlets for artists, it’s not healthy for the city.
“One of our biggest problems is we lose our best artists every year to bigger cities,” says Scheible. “And part of that is that we don’t have any outlet for the artists to be seen directly by the public.”Sophisticate the landscape
In addition to street art and performance art, some also want to make space for temporary art. Artist and professor Rachel Clarke, originally from England, points to one particularly effective temporary public art project she witnessed in 1993. Created in response to London’s redevelopment efforts, artist Rachel Whiteread’s “House” reacted to high-rise buildings quickly changing the fabric of an East London neighborhood.
“A resident of one of the terraced Victorian houses refused to move, and while the remaining houses were demolished, his house alone was left standing on the street,” Clarke explains. “Eventually he agreed to move, but before it was demolished, Whiteread took a cast of the entire interior, creating a ghost of the building.”
“House” was eventually demolished, but not before it left a lasting impression on Clarke and many others—and sparked numerous public conversations.
Now, Clark says, she’d like to see something similar here.
“I would like to see Sacramento support an ongoing, temporary [commissioned] public art program, also including social practice,” Clarke says. “I believe this program would greatly enhance the city’s cultural growth.”
Sacramento artist Gioia Fonda, whose work can be seen at the Verge Center for the Arts, agrees. She envisions art on bus stops around the arena, or even maybe painting some buses orange—anything that’s kind of memorable or surprising.
Fonda says she’ll apply for the arena commission, too, perhaps designing something for the long wall on L Street.
“I’m primarily a 2-D artist, so I have a couple of challenges I have to wrap my head around,” says Fonda. “But the research I’ve done has kind of emboldened me to think about other public-art materials like steel, or mosaic or glass. Those are kind of the things that keep coming up that will look good.”
Di Gregorio thinks Fonda is a perfect fit for public art.
“She does really colorful stuff, she has a quirky style and she has an aesthetic where she’s real versatile in utilizing different materials,” he says. “I can see her coming out with something crazy and people are really tripping out because it’s provocative.”
Whatever Fonda decides on (she doesn’t want to reveal specifics yet), she says she’d like to see other artists create something interactive.
“Interactive doesn’t have to mean you get in it, or you ride it—that’s called a playground—but I think that things being tactile, or being able to engage with a person who walks through it or under it or to be able to touch it, are things that should be welcomed,” Fonda says.
Graphic artist Ben Della Rosa, who previously worked on a public art project called “Words on Walls” in 2013, also wants to see Fonda’s work around town.
“Her stuff is always really interesting and thought-provoking,” he says. “There’s a rich community at Verge of artists in a wide variety of disciplines and mediums, and any one of them, I think, would be an amazing fit for that project.”
But maybe, some artists say, one of the best things we could do isn’t necessarily to have one overarching specific vision of the art downtown, or even name specific artists or types of projects that we’d like to see. Rather, just invest money in good art—whether local, national or international, says artist Liv Moe, executive director of Verge Center for the Arts.
Ironically, the city that almost nabbed the Kings franchise might be a good example of that, and why it’s important.
“I was in Seattle [recently], and there were all kinds of pieces of art by artists that were not from Seattle that were probably commissioned in the millions of dollars—not about Mt. Olympus, about orcas or coffee,” she says. “It was just art. They’re investing in good art, you know? For civic identity, the willingness to invest in internationally recognized artists is a turning point—you’re actually sophisticating the landscape of the city.”
If it were up to her, Moe adds, she’d want to see a diverse amount of artists using a diverse amount of mediums at the arena.
“Between sports events and live entertainment and everything else that’s going to be going on downtown, you’ll get this breadth of humanity, and it would be great to expose these people to new media and art forms that they wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise.”
In a way, it sounds like she could be describing Padilla’s work.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Padilla walks around town to check up on some of his work. Many of his murals are located in unusual places like alleys, parking lots and on otherwise blank walls in office buildings—places where people wouldn’t normally be looking at art.
Walking through Midtown, Padilla notices that some amateur tagger has sprayed sloppily over one of his murals of a bright urban cityscape with the name “Mable.”
It’s just one of the perils—or benefits, depending on how you look at it—of public art, of course.
“Oh man, this dude painted over my work,” he says. “I’ll have to fix that when I have time.”
Unless, of course, he gets chosen to create something for the arena.
“It would be something where I dedicate the next year of my life to get done,” he says. “I would quit all other things and focus on one thing,”
If not, he just hopes the art selection panel chooses those with innovative ideas.
“A really unknown artist could come up with a great idea, and that idea should take precedence over a well-known artist’s shitty idea.
“Without art, it seems like there’s no creativity alive in the city,” says Padilla. “Local artists have the ability to do something and those who are really creative, they should have the opportunity to shine.”