I remember the first time I saw the "Sniff" paintings at the Albany Bulb. They were on sheets of plywood. Each was painted with surrealistic scenes such as drunken wolves driving hot rods and debauchery in the land of the dead. Each was signed by the mysterious art collective "Sniff." At least 15 of them formed an outdoor gallery along the north shoreline this strange dump just north of Golden Gate Fields.
Each piece could have hung on the walls of a museum. They would never make it there though. The sun and rain were taking their toll. It was like watching a Buddhist sand mandala being slowly swept away. Each moment with them was to be relished, but they were only a small part of the incredible collection to be found in this ephemeral art gallery.
Outsider art was scattered all around the man-made peninsula. Rebar snakes sprung from the heads of concrete medusa. Strange copper plates were cast with hieroglyphic scenes, and riveted to chunks of cement. Iconic graffiti of cubist knights, and mayan calendar figures dotted the landscape. Elsewhere twisted, rusting, red metal had been transformed into a guardian angel, its feathered wings poised for flight or to give a demonic attacker a bad case of tetanus.
Elsewhere, an obsessive compulsive had lugged way too many bags of concrete all the way out to the Bulb's tip. They had mixed the concrete, created a bunker shaped like a heart, and painted the walls gold. Then they had inscribed transcendental poetry upon it. When one climbed the stairs to the roof, they could look down on the diamond and the club made out of gravel on sand. But there was no spade.
Elsewhere on the island, a stalwart, wooden dragon stood guard on the side of a hill while giants made of orange Styrofoam battled the sun's rays. The City of Albany has been working on plans to erase this artistic wilderness, and turn it into a more traditional park, or something, anything else but "that eyesore". After all, the place is a rag-tag palace for vagrants. The police have been called in several times to clear out the homeless encampments, but they just keep coming back.
Normally society could care less about whether the homeless stay or go. They wouldn't even mind if the dogs that fetch balls on the beach have to be kept on a leash. But they do care about the amazing art, and that's why there has been such a controversy for so many years.
True the place is a dump. But it's the coolest dump ever... and it's wild. Heaven knows we could always use more wild things in our mundane lives.
How long will the Bulb be around? Who knows... All I know is that I'll be sad when it goes away. <sniff>
Donovan Rittenbach is the Web Manager for the California Academy of Sciences. He has a Master’s Degree in Multimedia, and 12 years of web & multimedia industry experience.