SFMOMA Borrows Crissy Field for a Year for Mark di Suvero

Now that the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has shuttered its Third Street location for the next two and a half years to create a home for the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection, we can expect a lot more exhibitions like Mark di Suvero at Crissy Field, which continues through May 26, 2014. This month, SFMOMA's programming includes an exhibition of work from the museum's collection at the nearby Contemporary Jewish Museum, and in November, two exhibitions will be mounted down on the peninsula; a co-curated effort at Stanford's Cantor Arts Center, as well as a show of indoor and outdoor pieces in Los Altos.

The reception to the di Suvero exhibition, which features eight sculptures, each weighing upwards of 20 tons, has been perhaps a bit noisier than organizers might have expected, thanks, in part, to an article in The Atlantic Cities, which publicized an online petition (at change.org, no less) demanding the removal of di Suvero's sculptures on the grounds that they "impede our freedom to move, and generally diminish the natural beauty of Crissy Field." At last check, the petition had failed to reach even its modest goal of 100 signatures.

Mark di Suvero, Mother Peace, 1969-70. Photo by Ben Marks.

Please. While there are a few problems with this collection of di Suveros curated by SFMOMA's director, Neal Benezra, those ain't them. I'm pretty sure I'm not the first to point out that while Crissy Field may be beautiful, there is little about it that's natural. This former marsh was destroyed for an airfield before it became a lawn where people could toss Frisbees for their defecating dogs. As for its neighbor the Golden Gate Bridge, Google "Ansel Adams Golden Gate 1933" to see the natural wonder that our most famous postcard icon ruined forever. Maybe we should remove that, too.

But I digress. For those familiar with di Suvero's work, the exhibition at Crissy Field is a welcome chance to see a few old friends, notably Are Years What? (for Marianne Moore) (1967), one of the crown jewels of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. Even better is the return of the 42-foot-tall Mother Peace (1969-70), which was removed in 1974 from its location outside the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland before being exiled to that petting zoo for sculpture, the Storm King Art Center in New York. Once Mother Peace was deemed too political because of the peace symbol cut into one of its horizontal beams. Today people complain it blocks their view of a six-lane freeway.


Mark di Suvero, Figolu, 2005-11. Photo by Matthew Millman.

Of the pieces I'm seeing for the first time, one standout is Figolu (2005-11), whose vertical I-beams appear to reach for the heavens when viewed from below. When seen from across the lawn, the piece has an almost animated quality to it, as if it were strutting around Crissy Field, lured by a trio of buoys that hang, carrot-on-a-stick-like, from the structure's main horizontal beam. Figolu also features a lot of those pretzel-like circles di Suvero likes so much, situated where the creature's head might be.

Mark di Suvero, Dreamcatcher, 2005-12. Photo by Matthew Millman.

I'm also a big fan of Dreamcatcher (2005-12), whose art-atop-a-pedestal organization recalls pieces like Sea Change next door to AT&T Park. In this case, the art is a handsome cluster of pretzels capped by a horizontal double-V which points into the wind. Unlike Figolu, Mother Peace, and Are Years What?, Dreamcatcher is not painted orange. Huru (1984-85), like Dreamcatcher, is raw metal crowned by a V motif and what appears to be a set of jaws; this whopping sculpture measures in at 55 feet in height.

Installation at Crissy Field, with seven of the eight sculptures by Mark di Suvero. Photo by Matthew Millman.

Had the exhibition limited itself to these five pieces, each of which moves fluidly -- despite their tonnage -- in the winds that regularly blow through the Golden Gate, it would have been perfect, but eight is three too many for this site. Particularly problematic is the placement of Old Buddy (For Rosko) (1993-95), so close to Mother Peace, while Magma (2008-12), and Will (1994), resemble art products, albeit big ones, rather than works of art with the capacity to stop us in our tracks. Still, if Benezra and company want to leave the exhibition up for the full year exactly as is, well, for the record, that's fine with me.

Mark di Suvero at Crissy Field runs through May 26, 2014, in San Francisco. For more information, visit sfmoma.org.