Public Art Programs

Art Exhibit for the Birds

Placing manmade installation art in a national park seems counterintuitive since national parks were established to preserve and protect wildlife habitat. But the 1,491-acre Presidio is unlike any other national park. Set in San Francisco’s tony residential area, it overlooks the Golden Gate entrance into the Bay, the reason why it served as a military outpost for 219 years (successively under Spain, Mexico and U.S. rule) until Congress closed the army base in 1994 and made it into a national park. Today, the Presidio is a mix of forested hiking trails and historic buildings converted to other uses, including the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Its proximity to urban surroundings has also resulted in some interesting collaborations. In 2009, For-Site Foundation (a nonprofit dedicated to the presentation of art about place) in partnership with the Presidio Trust invited 25 designers, artists and architects worldwide to propose custom-designed habitat for the wildlife living in the park. From there, 11 concepts were chosen for a site-based art exhibition called “Presidio Habitats: For the Place, Of the Place.”

The installations are not only to be enjoyed as works of art, but as a means to heighten awareness and appreciation of the wonders of the place itself.

The “Patience” exhibit by San Francisco-based Jensen Architects, for example, presents 10 straight-back chairs, each located in a solitary place to make the person who sits in the chair acutely aware of the topography, the grass, the sky, the light playing off the surrounding landscape.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei created a nesting cavity for the Western Screech-Owl out of a hand-painted blue-and-white Chinese porcelain vessel — suggesting a link to San Francisco’s Chinese heritage and its proximity to the Pacific Rim.

PhilippeBecker, a San Francisco branding and design agency, paid homage to the American robin by building three-dimensional, wireframe letterforms out of sterile hay. Ideal nesting material, the letterforms spell out the phases “resolve conflict with song,” “adapt to change,” and “nest from the inside out.” The Winged Wisdom display conceived by Brody Hartman, creative strategy director for PhilippeBecker, and designed by creative director Philippe Becker, makes a metaphorical statement about the adaptive and peaceful spirit of the robin. “Our hope is to give park visitors an unexpected, yet mindful provocation of nature’s strength and wisdom,” says Hartman.

The exhibit, which will be up for a year, are a delightful discovery as visitors hike around the park.