Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - March 28, 2014

Five works of Palo Alto public art

Palo Alto has 336 pieces of permanently sited and portable works of art in its collection, according to Elise DeMarzo, manager of public art with the city. Some are better known than others. Below is a list of five public art works and the stories behind them.

OLDEST: "Nude in Steel" by Hans Wehrli | Palo Alto Main Library, 1213 Newell Road

This statue was the first piece of art purchased by the Public Art Commission. It was acquired in 1976 in commemoration of America's bicentennial celebration. It is currently hidden from view — inside a large box to protect it from the surrounding construction going on at the library. According to DeMarzo, one of the city's librarians told her that the sculpture has a secret admirer, who places a flower behind the statue's ear every few days. "I think somebody loves her," the librarian says.

NEWEST: "Wild" by Beth Nybeck | Hoover Park, 2901 Cowper St.

This trio of boxy metal bears is not technically the newest piece of art in the city, but some of the more recent acquisitions, from artists including Nathan Oliveira, Bruce Beasley, Roger Stoller, Brad Oldham and Mark Verlander, aren't visible because they've yet to be placed or are hidden by construction at Mitchell Park. "Wild" was truly a community effort, DeMarzo says. Over the course of a few years, the art commission visited with the Midtown Residents Association and asked what the community wanted before putting out a national call. Beth Nybeck won the commission and the locals seem happy. "Every time I'm out there, I see kids climbing on the bears," DeMarzo says.

WELL KNOWN: "Digital DNA" by Adriana Vallera & Nilton Maltz | Lytton Plaza, 202 University Ave.

Everyone knows this piece even if they don't know its name. It's the giant egg! This project was initially approved around 2000, but several delays pushed its unveiling back, even after the piece itself was finished. Then a warehouse fire destroyed the original, and the artist team had to start from scratch on a new egg. It was finally placed in 2005. Comprised of many pieces of computer circuit boards — and intended to reflect on how technology can bridge language and culture — the piece has taken a beating from the sun and rain. It was recently refurbished, but the art commission and city are considering moving "Digital DNA" somewhere where it faces less punishment from the elements.

LESSER KNOWN: "Bliss in the Moment" by James Moore | San Francisco Bay Trail

Located on the San Francisco Bay Trail and visible from Highway 101, this abstract rendering of a cyclist gazing off into the distance of the baylands is meant to memorialize Bill Bliss, the influential San Jose cycling activist, who worked hard to advance causes, such as the Bay Trail and bicycle-safety infrastructure all over the state. According to DeMarzo, the odometer on the front of the bicycle portion of the sculpture has the number of miles Bliss traveled on the Odyssey 2000 cycling tour around the world — 20,126.

MOST FAMOUS ARTIST: "WIGS" by Pablo Picasso | Currently in storage

Though this ceramic plate is far from Picasso's best-known work, it is a Picasso nonetheless. A gift to the city by Don Goldeen. It was originally displayed in the city during a 1981 exhibition at the Palo Alto Art Center, titled "Picasso Ceramics: Limited Editions from California Collections." The plate was produced in France, sometime around 1947, when Picasso began working in the Madoura Pottery in Vallauris, Southern France, according to information obtained from the arts center exhibit. During that time, he created molds and designs, which the master potters at the pottery then used to create limited editions.

— Nick Veronin

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