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Arts

  • Contemporary Art in a Spectacular Setting

    In a quiet corner of Sonoma, on a private ranch, you’ll find some amazing works of art. It is not that easy to see these works because Oliver Ranch is a privately owned estate. Over the years the owner, Steve Oliver, commissioned  site-specific art installations, working with each artist to ensure the pieces fit well with the land. He allows nonprofit organizations access to the land for several weeks during the year. I was lucky enough to secure a spot on a fundraising tour for the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art.

    The two-and-a-half hour tour covers 18 artworks, from a very disturbing sound installation to a concrete tower/performance space whose interior consists of a double-helix staircase. 

    When I arrived, I was drawn in by the peacefulness of the small lake and the abundance of yellow flowers, but I was also disturbed on a visceral level. I sensed that Mother Earth was angry, as I heard intermittent grumbling from the ground, similar to the violent fumaroles in Yellowstone National Park. That sound turned out to be one of the art installations. Although a clever idea, I wished that the sound were more tonal and musical—something that soothed rather than disturbed.

    The other art pieces were unique and wonderful to experience. Each has a story of how the artist was commissioned by Steve Oliver and how the piece was constructed. Fortunately Mr. Oliver is in the construction business, so making white concrete or super dense steel or building a concrete tower were challenges that he was able to solve for the artists. This gave each artist tremendous freedom to create. (Photo: The reflection in the pool at the bottom of The Tower.)

    Because each piece is so unique, it’s difficult for me to rate one over he other. Rather, each allows you to explore the background of the artist and the artist’s perception of the ranch. It is difficult, though, not to be drawn in by the Tower, a piece you can experience inside and out. I hope to return one day for a performance in this space. 

    The ranch also as an award-winning guest house. The clever design gives maximum privacy to guests while still enabling them to experience the serenity of the outdoor landscape. (Photo: Looking inside the guest house, with reflection of the tour group.)

    I had the option to take the stairs to the main road or ride the bus. I, along with most of my fellow travelers, chose to take the 300 stairs of uneven height, and without a handrail. Like all the art at Oliver, the stairs are designed to complement the land. When the slope calls for a tall step, the step is tall. When the slope is more gentle, the stair height is shorter. The varying height made me focus on each step, slowing me down to appreciate the artistic aspect of the stairs as I was delighted by the verdant landscape.

    If you love contemporary art, find a way to secure a spot on an Oliver Ranch tour. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes, otherwise you might end up in the same position as this woman.

  • A Surrealistic Afternoon in Monterey

    Salvador Dali spent several years in Monterey, California during the 1940’s. Perhaps it is fitting that the largest private collection of his works in the US are available for viewing in a permanent exhibit only steps from Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey. 

    Like most people, I am quite familiar with Persistence of Memory, with its melting watches. What I didn’t know was that Dali illustrated a wide variety of stories from the Bible to Alice in Wonderland to Dante’s Inferno to a few stories with sexual themes, including copulating beans. I hadn’t realized what a creative illustrator he was.

    Dali also created illustrations for Tarot cards and another series for the Apostles which look instead like the Knights of the Round Table.

    It is an amazing exhibit that is not to be missed if you go to Monterey Bay.

  • Where Neon Signs Retire

    The Neon Boneyard is home to more than 200 signs from Las Vegas hotels, motels, and businesses. As neon gave way to LED signs and uplighting on buildings, the signs disappeared one by one. In 1996 the Neon Museum formed and started rescuing old signs, preserving them from further decay and restoring a few of them. 

    The outdoor boneyard has more than 200 signs on display in a site that is two acres. The signs sit on the ground arranged closely to each other. The huge signs at eye level in a tight space provide a warped perspective that makes the signs look like pop art. At night, the color-wheel spotlights further enhance the effect. 

    The collection has a few signs that aren’t neon. One is the pirate head from the original Treasure Island Hotel, which opened in 1993. That’s the decade that casinos started to turn from neon to other ways of attracting attention—the Treasure Island pirate head and ships, the Excalibur castle architecture, the New York New York iconic skyline, the MGM Grand lion entrance. So far, the pirate is the only sign of that era in the boneyard. The head is so large that its smiling teeth are visible in maps apps using satellite view.

    Old neon signs require a lot of money to restore, which is why only a handful in the boneyard are working. Some signs, like the Yucca Hotel, have intricately arranged, hand-bent neon tubing that would be difficult to fix. Others are salvaged parts of larger signs and will never be seen whole again. 

    The museum has a number of signs that are fully operational so they haven’t been retired to the boneyard. You can see these at various locations on the meridian of Las Vegas Blvd. The Sliver Slipper slipper and the Bow and Arrow Motel sign are closest to the museum’s visitor center. 

    Check out my photos of the boneyard. If you decide to visit the Neon Museum, you must book a tour in advance. Night tours are best. These sell out two weeks or more in advance. Don’t just show up at the museum hoping to get on a tour. When I was there, I saw 11 people get turned away.

  • STARMUS 2016: Taking a Chance on a Warm Weather Vacation

    If you look at some of the places I’ve traveled—Jukkasjärvi, Barrow, Fairbanks, Puntas Arenas, Patagonia, Andes, Himalaya, and Antarctica—you might conclude that I am a cold weather person. I’m not. But when it comes to a vacation, the idea of sitting around on a beach might sound idyllic, bur for a week I think it would be quite boring. That’s what attracts me to STARMUS.

    STARMUS is a biennial festival celebrating astronomy, art, and music. Held in the Canary Islands, the festival is aimed at the public, but the speakers are luminaries like Stephen Hawking, Brian May (astrophysicist and guitarist in Queen), Jill Tarter (astrophysicist), and Roger Penrose (mathematical physicist). The conference sessions get underway at 3:00 PM each day and end at 8:00 PM. The parties start at 9:30 PM and last until 1:00 AM. There is just enough time in the late morning to sit by the sea, but not so much time that I’ll get bored. Most of my time in this warm weather destination will be spent doing interesting things. Or at least I hope so.

    The conference takes place June 27 to July 2. Between now and then I plan to do a little background reading so I can get the most out of the conference. Although I know who many of the speakers are, there are many whose names are unknown to me. It’s time to find out who they are! 

    This video from STARMUS 2014 gives an idea of what goes on at this festival.