ArtWeek Oct 20, 1994

Viewpoint/ Bruno Fazzolari

Meet me out on the street: Looking at SFAC’s Market Street Program


   “….This could as easily be a social critique, as it could be a diary of city life as it could be an art review.  I have spent the last week sitting by night on empty sidewalks, taking notes during the day along busy streets and gathering impressions from diverse denizens of the urban landscape (by whom I have been jostled, nervously ignored, cruised and hustled, in addition to being scrutinized by police and panhandled a seemlingly infinite number of times), all in the critical pursuit of public art. Whole no amount of gallery white space will ever persuade me that art can occir in a social vacuum, public art, more than most other media, exists entirely in social space, rendering a disinterested critical approach inappropriate, if not impossible.  The process which I undertook in order to gather material for this piece begs the question of whether a more personal, participatory involvement is necessary to the evaluation of public art- perhaps something aliong the lines of recent trends in anthropology.

Public art occupies a gray area between the democratic process, bureaucratic rigidity, social reform and propaganda (…oh yea, and creative expression, too). The current round of the San Francisco Art Commission’s Market Street Art in Transit Program “seeks site- specific responses to Market Street’s distinctive character and context , encouraging the relationship of art to street life.” With this mission in mind, it is hardly surprising that most of these works should be morally interested, socially involved art which somehow attempts to reach the people, uplift the race, enrich and inspire… possibly even serve and protect.

The program’s fall offerings include a series of kiosks, as well as storefront installations and sidewalk paintings. Each piece seems to have its local demographic in mind. John Ammirati’s Five O’Clock Shadow, in Justin Herman Plaza, consists of shadow figures traced in paint from a diverse assortment of passers- by.  The work has a gimmicky appeal best suited, perhaps, to business people and tourists.  At the other end of the Market, Projections in Public, just a few blocks from the Castro, has a distinctly rich, queer sensibility….”