SFMOMA On the Go debuts in Los Altos

Courtesy SFMOMA
Photographer Alec Soth’s “Quick Fix Computer Sales and Services, Mountain View” is scheduled for display this fall as part of “Project Los Altos.”

What would Los Altos’ essence look like, captured on the screen or canvas?

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art aims to find out when seven renowned contemporary artists soon unveil works that capture the Silicon Valley-influenced spirit of the city’s surroundings.

After the museum closed for renovations in June, curators launched the more than two-year expansion project with traveling SFMOMA On the Go displays all over the Bay Area, including Los Altos. With support from Passerelle Investment Co. and the city of Los Altos, the multisite exhibition, "Project Los Altos: SFMOMA in Silicon Valley," is scheduled to run Nov. 9 to March 2.

The exhibition will feature new works commissioned to contemporary artists and documentation of past performance-art projects, all of which pay tribute to local residents and the history and culture of the region’s agricultural roots.

Following is a sneak peek at what’s behind the SFMOMA On the Go storefront at 242 State St., two outdoor art installations, a nearby exhibition and complementary educational programs.

State Street exhibition

Two participating artists boast local links.

• The late Jeremy Blake’s "Winchester, 2004" digital video series is slated for screening at the State Street outpost. Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester rifle fortune and the violence on which it was built, inspired the animated trilogy. Winchester owned 100 acres at the heart of what became the city of Los Altos.

• Charles Garoian, a performance artist and art instructor at Los Altos High School from 1969 to 1985, taught students about art history and conceptual art, introducing exploratory, experimental and improvisational methods of making art. His video installation for "Project Los Altos" - "Drill Team: Homecoming Parade, 1974" - documents his students’ conceptual art project and their participation in the school’s homecoming parade.

SFMOMA originally showcased the project in a 1974 exhibition, "Performance Art by the Students of Charles Garoian." The museum unearthed additional footage to supplement its resurrection for "Project Los Altos."

Now a professor of art education at Pennsylvania State University, Garoian will likely take part in the Live Projects presentations (see below).

SFMOMA recently released the details on two artists’ projects set for display on State Street.

• Photographer Alec Soth’s work focuses on Silicon Valley’s technical community. His contribution, "Quick Fix Computer Sales and Services, Mountain View," documents a man holding a computer with the circuits showing, the circuit board completely obscuring the man’s head.

SFMOMA curator Jenny Gheith said Soth’s piece is one of several in his "Valley" series - he previously chronicled the San Joaquin and San Fernando valleys. For his Silicon Valley series, he took photos at Hewlett-Packard, Google and Facebook.

His work has been featured at the Jeu de Paume in Paris, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City and the Sao Paulo Biennial.

Soth, a Minneapolis native, is a member of the prestigious Magnum Photos agency. According to SFMOMA officials, his work is "rooted in the distinctly American tradition of on-the-road photography" developed by Walker Evans and Robert Frank.

• Independent filmmaker and graphic designer Mike Mills plans to interview children from Silicon Valley whose parents work in the tech industry for a video about the future.

Mills’ semiautobiographical movie "Beginners" (2010) - the story of his mother, who died of brain cancer, and father, a museum director and art historian who came out of the closet just a week later - won a Gotham Award for best picture and snagged Christopher Plummer an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Other artists’ newly commissioned contributions to "Project Los Altos" are still works in progress, but an overview of their artistic sensibilities could offer a clue.

• Spencer Finch works with color, light and the elements. In 2011, he created "Lunar," a geodesic dome that glowed white, for display at the Art Institute of Chicago. His art makes reference to literary themes, such as passages from philosopher David Hume or poet Emily Dickinson, using mixed media, fluorescent tubes and glass to record the natural world. "Moonlight" (2003) records the exact luminosity of a full moon over Luna County, New Mexico, using a colorimeter.

Finch is known for playing with concepts of memory and perception through light installations. Gheith noted what she called Finch’s "sustained looking."

• Christian Jankowski is a performance artist who engages audience members to collude in his work, making them collaborators or co-authors, often via video installations. Gheith said his "Project Los Altos" contribution would involve the "language of Silicon Valley."

The German-born Jankowski has displayed his work at the Museo D’Arte Contemporanea in Rome, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and as part of the "Common Ground" exhibition in New York City.

• Czech artist Katerina Šedá was among the final participating artists to visit Los Altos to gain a sense of the community - she was otherwise engaged this summer showing her work at the Venice Biennial. Her art centers on collaboration affecting the everyday lives of ordinary people. She tries to advance communication through organizing experiences.

Šedá counts several solo exhibitions among her achievements, including the Tate Modern in London, the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago and Kunstmuseum Luzern in Switzerland.

Outdoor installations

• Jessica Stockholder plans to transform State and Fourth streets with colorful material, taking into account public safety and city regulations, according to Gheith.

Stockholder specializes in site-specific installations, playfully incorporating the architecture around the site. She transformed an intersection in downtown Chicago for the Art Loop "Color Jam," observing that "the corner is canvas, stage, pedestal and frame against which the public can view a parade of shifting color."

• SFMOMA commissioned a sculpture by San Jose native Chris Johanson for installation in the orchard adjacent to the Los Altos Civic Center. He will also contribute two other sculptures for placement around town.

Johanson represents San Francisco’s Mission School, a group of artists connected by street and skate culture. His insightful paintings and uneven sculptures seem simple on the surface, but their humor hides deeper personal and social concerns. Johanson has had solo exhibitions at the Portland Art Museum and the Malmö Konsthall Museum in Sweden.

Neighboring exhibition

Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center is scheduled to host "Flesh and Metal: Body and Machine in Early 20th-Century Art" Nov. 13 through March 16. Spanning Surrealism, Dadaism and other movements that found beauty in machines, the exhibition will feature paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, prints and illustrated books by artists such as Constantin Brancusi, Margaret Bourke-White, Salvador Dalí, Fernand Léger and others from the SFMOMA collection.

The Cantor Arts Center is located at 328 Lomita Drive on the Stanford campus.

Live projects

A complementary SFMOMA program, Live Projects, will use films, public events, festivals and artists’ talks to spark discussion of art in the community.

Beginning in January, artists participating in "Project Los Altos" will take part in the programs to "examine how artistic inventions and everyday life can converge and mobilize towns, cities, and mobile spaces," according to museum officials.

Brooke Ray Smith, director of Passerelle and a Mountain View native, noted that it’s an important way to show that modern art "doesn’t have to be a scary thing that has to be on whitewashed walls in echoing hallways."

Los Altos celebrates

Faye Chapman, chairwoman of the Los Altos Public Arts Commission, said the city has discussed the possibility of staging a parade to showcase the city’s selection as an SFMOMA On the Go site.

The Public Arts Commission plans to work in concert with the Los Altos History Museum, issuing a call for local artists who want to display their work at the History Museum during "Project Los Altos." The Los Altos main library will also offer a wall to exhibit various artists, Chapman added.

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