So what is it about boys and their toys, or should I say their choo-choo trains? The LACMA is wishing on a star both figuratively and literally in the hopes of erecting an operational replica of 1943 Baldwin 2900 class steam locomotive and Liebherr LR 1750 lattice boom crane 160' tall x 140' wide by the artist Jeff Koons, as a permanent installation after the museum’s current renovation, designed by the architect Renzo Piano, is finished. According to LA Times staff writer Diane Haithman, “the yet-to-be-created work, which would be visible for miles, would turn its wheels, whistle and belch steam three times a day.”
Apparently a grant to study the feasibility of placing Koon’s Train was awarded in excess of one million dollars. Haithman quotes Koons as saying “that placing the artwork at the center of the LACMA campus would create a sort of town square for L.A., with the train essentially serving the purpose of a small-town clock tower."
I think it’s pretty cool – why not? It seems to fit perfectly with Koon’s iconoclastic and eccentric personality and mirabolant career and is certainly in line with other major outdoor installations he’s produced and goes nicely it seems with LACMA’s current ambitions.
So what does the MCASD (Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego) have to show for its ambitions? A Richard Serra sculpture. Not bad you say and normally I would agree with you if it was any number of other extraordinary works by Serra.
I would have even settled for a Torqued Ellipses or Tilted Arc, anything other than the “plop plop fizz fizz” entitled Santa Fe Depot recently installed under the arcade at the Santa Fe Depot station, just outside the doors of the newly renovated MCASD annex. Listen,can we just this once all agree that not everything that comes out of an artist’s mind or studio is the stuff of pure genius – even for Richard Serra? Can we all agree that even sometimes the great ones, and certainly Serra is one, “make an error in judgment” if you will? The goal here is not to criticize the artist or his career but the artwork.
Santa Fe Depot is for this viewer, let’s just say, extremely boring, complacent, stagnant, and unimaginable taking up a whole lot of dynamic space that any number of artists –even local San Diego artists- could have transformed into a thing of beauty. Man, what was everyone thinking? Go see for yourself, you’ll find six blocks of forged weatherproof steel each having the exact dimensions of 52” x 58” x 64” and each weighing 25 tons.
Not that it matters or that you could tell unless you were that concerned as to what these blocks were doing here in the first place. Curiosity is not one of the reactions the sculpture incites within oneself when experiencing this installation as its mere presence seems almost apologetic, almost embarrassed for taking up too much space, over compensating in a very non-clever way, the concept has been drained out of the conceptualization, it is merely ballast for a very unsteady mission and journey.
Unfortunately that journey ended here in San Diego no matter how much the artist wants us to “think” about these blocks. Robert Pincus the art critic for the San Diego Union Tribune writes in his article, “welding and carving aren't part of Serra's sculptural vocabulary. The block arrives straight from the foundry. The reality of their making matters. What you see matches what you get. This is part of the conceptual integrity of his art. As massive as Serra's sculptures are, they're ignited by concept. But they're just as concerned with how you experience them. He relishes the way these blocks, placed as they are, provoke a potential viewer to wonder: What are they doing here? How do I look at them? How do they relate to this site?” Trust me, people aren’t going to ponder these blocks in this way because it is exactly the reason why they don’t relate is that they don’t relate to people’s very complicated, ambitious, multi-tasking, internet connected, cell phone ringing, Hummer driving, WalMart shopping, American Idol lives that need constant stimulation and entertainment.
Santa Fe Depot does not entertain, it is not necessarily the fault of the work but there is nothing the least bit poetic or melodic in this work to sooth the savage beast in all of us. It does nothing to slow us down or intrigue us and no amount of “arrangement in two axes, mirroring the idea that there are train tracks running both directions” or that “each block is aligned and turned differently, so looking down the row creates a rising and falling set of rectangles and planes” is going to make it better. There is simply no room under this arcade with matching inlaid bricks of the same color underneath, that do nothing more than absorb these forms into the ground instead of projecting them upward, levitating them in some magical act of weightlessness, defying gravity and floating effortlessly like two barges passing in the night. Please don’t be fooled, these pieces cannot support the artistic weight or local history they must bear. There is simply no room in this setting for minimalist, post-minimalist or post post minimalist work as there is no room in our lives for something that is not treacherous, deadly, chaotic, and foreseeable.
It is the small things in life that count as they say, trouver du bonheur the French would say and I believe the Surrealists (of any artistic movement) would understood this better than anyone. There are plenty of Surrealistic moments in everyday life that give us pause and a huge grin on our faces – you just have to be open to them and realize some are more personalized than others. Case in point, writing this article. One of these moments occurred when I was in the process of scouring the net for what other people had to say about Richard Serra’s sculpture and the tiny little typo that made its way into one review I found. I’ve already referenced that article above, but if you look closely though under the heading On View, you’ll find written Santa De Depot instead of Santa Fe Depot. It’s no big deal right and I concur, except I was able to find my bonheur in that little mis-type. In French, the word "dés" or "les dés" means dice. And since I’m a strong believer that everything happens for a reason – even Santa Fe Depot – and since grammatically speaking you normally do not pronounce the -s- in dés, it made me realize what an apt ending this was to a crap shoot the museum took in installing this piece.