International Orange: 15 artists respond to the Golden Gate Bridge

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[Alyson Kuhn] The Golden Gate Bridge opened to traffic on May 27, 1937. The International Orange exhibition — named after the bridge’s original paint color — opened 75 years later, on May 25, 2012. International Orange is inside Fort Point, a Civil War-era fort literally in the shadow of the San Francisco side of the bridge. Sixty thousand visitors enjoyed the show in its first nine weeks, including me.

The show’s rack card (4 x 9 in.) is mailable for 45¢. The stamp of the bridge under construction (from the 1998 Celebrate the Century series) is perfect. The little orange 1937 motor car (2002 Antique Toys issue) begs to come along. O, these reinforcements make perfect O’s. Photo: © 2012 StudioAlex.

In a minute, I will rave about the projects of three artists whose primary material is … paper: life-sized paper gowns, a boutique where everything is International Orange and nothing is for sale, and a fact-packed magazine called Average. All extraordinary.

Fort Point Bunting by Allison Smith, created for the fort’s inner courtyard. The Fort sits at the mouth of San Francisco Bay, in the Presidio, former home of the Sixth U.S. Army.

Fort Point is gigantic, historic and not climate-controlled. It is usually windy and frequently foggy at this edge of the continent. The ambiance is intense — and this is part of what thrilled project curator Cheryl Haines about developing the exhibition here. Haines is the founding executive director of the FOR-SITE Foundation, whose tagline is “Art about place.” We chatted with Haines and Marnie Burke de Guzman, managing project director, about this massive undertaking.

Kate Pocrass is the founding editor of Average, “a magazine about average things & averages.” Average is published, on average, once a year. The special Golden Gate Edition was commissioned by the FOR-SITE Foundation for International Orange and is free at the exhibition.

Kate Pocrass’ infographic (first inside spread) presents a multitude of fun facts and stats.

Can we start by talking about this location, location, location?
Marnie Burke de Guzman: Many people who have lived in San Francisco forever have never been inside Fort Point. FOR-SITE’s goal is to have the art really underscore the history of any place we do an installation. The fort has been open on the weekend for many years, but most people have no idea what’s inside. There had never been a major contemporary art show here until now. As a result of this show, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy obtained funding to keep the fort open all week, which makes it so much easier for people to visit.

Fiesta Queens by paper artist Anandamayi Arnold: Seven paper dresses pay homage to the real-life Fiesta Queens of 1937, who represented each of the six counties that contributed funds to build the bridge. Arnold, surely Queen of Crepe Paper, added a seventh dress honoring the bridge itself.

Cheryl Haines: I really wanted to showcase artists whose ideologies are quite diverse, whose sense of materiality is distinctive and different from one another. We also needed to be sure each artist could address a site that is so rich historically but also challenging, with restrictions around issues of historical preservation and harshness of climate. The resulting exhibition contains works in a wide variety of media — photography, videography, sound, and both found and fabricated objects.

San Francisco’s bodice features a phoenix rising from the ashes of the 1906 earthquake and fire. Marin County’s skirt (rear) features sunshine at the end of the tunnel just north of the bridge, the psychological gateway to Marin.

How did you select the artists for the exhibition?
CH: I’ve been involved in the art world for almost 30 years, so I’m aware of who’s working out there, and what they are about. For example, Anandamayi Arnold had worked with Allison Smith — who did the bunting — on a “peddler project” I’d seen. Anandamayi wore an incredible dress she’d made and peddled balloons. For the opening of the bridge in 1937, among the dominant presences were the Fiesta Queens, one from each county that had contributed money to build the bridge.

Bodice detail from Anandamayi Arnold’s dress evoking the Golden Gate Bridge. The front of the skirt (not visible) is a lovely seascape, with a zeppelin hovering in the blue sky. Cheryl Haines comments that Arnold’s dresses introduce an element of domesticity.

MBdG: Each artist received a materials fee and a stipend from the FOR-SITE Foundation. The artists retain ownership of their works; some of them are already responding to inquiries from museums and collectors interested in acquiring their work from the show. The opportunity to create new work about a place does not come along very often. If an artist sells a piece from the exhibition, whether to a museum or to an individual collector, the FOR-SITE Foundation will be reimbursed for the cost of creating the work.

Conceptual artist Stephanie Syjuco’s pop-up shop is all pop and no shop. She named her installation The International Orange Commemorative Store (A Proposition).

The desk in Stephanie Syjuco’s one-color economy

Do you share my pain at not being able to buy anything in Stephanie Syjuco’s shop, which I think of as International Orangemania?
MBdG: You are not alone! Many visitors have expressed surprise and disappointment. Initially, we did hope to sell merchandise — but park regulations are such that you cannot. As a result, I think that Stephanie’s installation provides a more provocative experience. It makes a statement about our acquisitive nature, and whether it’s possible to contain something as profound as the bridge in a banal object.

Stephanie Syjuco explores the notion of commerce within a cultural institution. Curator Cheryl Haines asks, “Does buying a memento become the most memorable part of the experience?” Um, well, we are dotty for these desk accessories.

CH: However, it’s worth noting that the permanent on-site souvenir shop inside the fort is doing very brisk business. Their sales are up 100% over the same period last year.

Pick a card, any card, and you may take it for free.

Free post card and double-sided business card from Stephanie Syjuco’s installation. I would love to buy a big post card of her entire shop. Photo: © 2012 StudioAlex.

I wonder whether a significant number of visitors just “happen upon” the show.
CH: Absolutely! Many of them are people who are out with their children or walking their dog, and they come upon the exhibition. I love curating in the public realm! This isn’t for a pre-selected audience. It’s not a museum or a gallery, where you have to pay or make a special effort to seek it out. This project hopefully engages the public in a way that art isolated from the everyday cannot. We have also, however, had some high praise from regional curators and museum directors as well as from “regular folk.”

Kate Pocrass calls the Golden Gate Edition of Average a field guide. It’s also a treasure trove of interviews.

Pocrass’ interview with retired toll taker Maureen Ewing continues for two more pages, with a marvelous photo of Maureen in her uniform in her toll booth. Maureen talks about fare changes, paying it forward (paying the toll for the vehicle behind you), the advent of cell phones and much more.

MBdG: We are so pleased that it is resonating with people. This is FOR-SITE’s largest project to date and a very ambitious undertaking. We also wanted to do a major interpretive piece. The website [www.international-orange.org] includes a video with each artist, providing a window into their creative approaches and processes, and capturing a wide-ranging vista of the Golden Gate at this milestone.

On the last page of Average, Pocrass illustrates her after-work stroll with artist/educator/horticulturalist Archie Wessells.

CH: As people continue to redefine what documentation is, and how to reach out and inform people of things, social media has become an increasingly important part of the conversation. This virtual banter, if you will, extends both visitorship and the life of the project. On the exhibition’s Facebook page, people can share photos of their own experiences at International Orange.

International Orange is organized by the FOR-SITE Foundation in partnership with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the National Park Service. The exhibition is open daily until Oct. 28, 2012. Current hours are 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Except as noted, all photos courtesy of FOR-SITE Foundation and the artists.

Related reading: Rachel Swaby’s Painting the Store Red, about Stephanie Syjuco’s installation, is a great read on wired.com.

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Comments (1)

  1. Posted by Joan O'Connor on 07.30.12 at 3:37 pm

    Wow! A great story, and so close by. Love the photos too. Thx, Alyson.

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