As I’ve said before, I’ve been working both as the Membership Manager and Major Gifts Manager since the end of February. It’s been a lot of fun to expand my duties. I love the variety of work I get to do and I’m feeling capable in both roles. However, the past few months have been busier than I’ve ever been. I have to apologize for not returning emails, or the 1 day a week I sleep a lot and do nothing. I’m sorry to say this blog has been suffering but I definitely have a lot of writing ideas.
To start, let me fill you in on the event I planned and executed last Sunday. The Oliver Ranch, a 100-acre property in Sonoma County features 18 site-specific installations by artists including Bill Fontana, Ann Hamilton, Martin Puryear, and Richard Serra, among others. Purchased by Steve and Nancy Oliver in 1981, the property has evolved from sheep quarters to a world-renowned sculpture ranch representing the Olivers' longstanding passion for art and deep connection to the land (watch this KQED video for a deeper look). In 2009, they created the Oliver Ranch Foundation, which essentially gifted the ranch to Sonoma County and assures that the Olivers’ vision for the ranch continues into perpetuity by leaving the ranch in local hands.
These days, the ranch provides unique fundraising opportunities for nonprofits. Tours, led by Steve himself, are offered as an auction item or as a ticketed event designed to raise money for the organization. Original performance works in Ann Hamilton’s tower by groups like Kronos Quartet, Joanna Haigood, and Pauline Oliveros are also used as ticketed fundraisers. The eight-story cylindrical tower, composed of over one million pounds of concrete is 86 feet high and approximately 30 feet in diameter. The Tower goes almost as far in the earth as it does into the air, with concrete piers driven deep into the ground and a large, thick concrete pad for the tower to rest upon. The Tower is open to the sky at the top, with a water cistern at the base. There are two separate concrete staircases within the tower, each shrinking in width with a custom stainless steel railing. Intended to be a private musical experimentation and performance space, the Tower's two staircases form a double helix, with one staircase for the audience and the other for the performers (description from the website).
|Me, descending one of the double-helix stairs of the tower. Photo by Ryan Mason.|
|Our group approaches Ann Hamilton's Tower. The tower is Hamilton's first permanent installation anywhere in the world. It took 3-1/2 years to complete, after 14 years of discussion and design. Photo by Jan Hobbel.|
|Tower Interior. Photo by Wren Coe.|
|Looking down from the top of the Tower to the cistern below. Photo by Wren Coe.|
My first visit to the ranch was last year, when Kronos Quartet performed the tower. We were then offered a date in May 2011 for a private tour with Steve Oliver. There are a few things to know in planning an event there—tours are for a maximum of 45 people and no private cars are allowed on the property, so the group must gather at a park and ride in Geyserville before heading to the ranch. We offered a shuttle for those who wanted to be bused, and the rest to meet in the North Bay. Major Stressor #1 came when I realized that May 15, 2011 was also the annual Bay to Breakers Race, meaning that only two routes were available for anyone trying to cross the race line. We moved the shuttle departure to the Marina, since leaving from YBCA would have been near impossible. And, I forewarned guests as much as possible to leave plenty of time for the routes available. Major Stressor #2 came in the form of unseasonable rainstorms in May. We drove through a few rainclouds on the way up, but amazingly we lucked out with mostly clear skies for the outdoor portion of the day.
All of my troubles aside, it’s hard to worry about anything while being completely delighted by the spectacular sculptures and interesting tidbits shared along the tour. The next day I found myself thinking of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, where he tries to identify some of what makes certain people exceptional (in being successful, smart, rich or famous and who operate on the extreme outer edge of what is statistically possible). Steve Oliver has a unique position to have the expertise of an engineer, the financial capabilities to make the artworks happen, and incredible persistence in the face of a challenge. What impresses me most is his willingness and I assume enthusiasm for seemingly impossible projects at the scale to which they are completed; the way nothing, not red tape, cost or sheer size of these works prevents a solution to the site-specific imagination of an artist. Furthermore, to me Steve is the model for creative appreciation. The drive to continue the work of the ranch is not the collector value of the pieces, or touting their deeper meaning (although the tours certainly give incredible context, you don't have to "get it" to appreciate it), but instead a passion for artistic experiences and the unique position the Olivers have to provide the space and expertise necessary to bring this type of work into existence.
Feel free to browse the photos taken by friends and colleagues here, here, and here. The rest of this post will be just a few images they took of an opportunity I feel very lucky to have experienced as part of my job.
|Judith Shea, "Shepherd's Muse", 1985-198|
|Roger Berry, "Darwin", 1988-89. The upper arch tracks the winter path of the sun and the lower arch tracks the summer path of the sun. On the summer and winter solstices, the shadow cast on the ground is only from its respective arch. On the spring and autumnal equinoxes, the shadow cast is exactly split by a strip of light that comes down through the center of the arch. The accuracy of this shadow split by the light is within one millimeter.|
|Terry Allen, "humanature", 1991-1992|
|Bruce Nauman, "Untitled", 1998-99|
|Ursula von Rydingsvard, "Iggy's Pride", 1990-91 (The remains of 40,000 pieces of cedar beams carved by the artist over a 13-month period)|
|Martin Puryear, "Untitled", 1994-1995. Apparently the Olivers had 1 week to access and have dinner in the interior before Puryear had it sealed. The theme of denial appears in the artist's work often, forcing imagination on the part of the viewer.|
|Richard Serra, "Snake Eyes and Boxcars", 1990-1993. The 12 hyper-dense corten steel blocks were made in a Seattle mill with the largest forging jaws in the United States. The forms were heated to 2,300 degrees and pounded with a 145-ton hammer. Oliver had to reinforce the roads to truck the 250-ton work from Seattle to Geyserville, in a convoy that was two and half miles long. The story he tells about this work involves maximum weight limits of the US Highway system, the CIA at Jorgenson Forge, and dressing up as Caltrans workers (allegedly, of course).|
|A closer look at one of the Serra forms. They are so dense that they radiate cold or heat depending on the weather. Apparently the sheep that used to live on the ranch would cozy up to it in cold weather.|