Downtown Napa’s newest adornments are neither wine tasting rooms nor restaurants nor boutiques. Bearing such names as “Surrogate,” “Cindunia!” and “Passage of Time,” they are the district’s newest public sculptures — 15 outdoor artworks that will highlight the Napa Art Walk for the next two years.
The third edition of Art Walk received its formal debut Thursday afternoon in a short ceremony hosted by Arts Council Napa Valley, which organizes the art display with the city of Napa. In kicking off the display of largely abstract and conceptual sculptures, Art Walk organizers proclaimed “Metamorphosis” the theme of the new collection, which tourists and passers-by can view along First and Main streets through the spring of 2015.
An emphasis of ideas over forms — and of building artworks from recycled metal, wood and other materials — marked much of the newly launched collection, from the ball of hubcaps and pots forming Donald Gialanella’s “Reprocessing Orb” at Main and First streets to the salvaged-cedar fin of David Turner’s “Riding the Tide In” off Main Street north of the Opera House.
“We wanted a theme that was a bit more challenging,” said Olivia Everett, chief executive officer of the arts council. “We’ve tied it into Napa being an agriculture community, but also (seeing) the changes to downtown Napa.”
Art Walk’s renewal begins as outdoor artworks increasingly become another draw for downtown visitors, according to Craig Smith, executive director of the Napa Downtown Association. Since the group began surveying tourists annually on their reasons for visiting, public art viewing has gone from a non-factor to fifth on the list in 2012, he said.
As the 30-person audience left the opening ceremony outside the Napa Valley Opera House to explore the new installations, one of the artists, Mike Suri of Portland, Ore., said cities’ interest in varying the art pieces they display is giving a louder voice to artists dealing in abstraction.
“The public tends to understand figurative work better, (but) I find that art selection committees want as diverse a collection as they can find,” said Suri, who created “Perch” at Dwight Murray Plaza and also serves on a public art commission in the Portland suburb of Lake Oswego. “Mine is abstract, but there are associations you can make from it, and that’s on purpose.”
On Franklin Street facing First Street is the exhibit’s only local work: Dona Kopol Bonick’s “Windows in the Sky,” a triangular metal pillar overlaid with photographs of portals.
For the longtime Napa photographer, the art display was a long-awaited chance at gaining the city itself as a canvas — and to blend her existing skill into another.
“This is something I’ve thought of doing for several years, and when I saw this opportunity I wanted to participate,” said Bonick, a photographer who used her Art Walk piece to blend photography with sculpture. “I’m hoping to continue doing outdoor installations; this is giving me more incentive to keep going.”
Farther east near Soscol Avenue, another sculpture has become the First Street bridge’s newest decoration: a blue-tinged copper crescent, disc and crossbar its maker, Stephen Nomura of Berkeley, christened “Thirty” for the three decades that went into its creation. Beyond its long gestation, though, he appeared content to let its full meaning lie just beyond even his own grasp.
“Artists are encouraged all the time to talk about their work,” he said. “But if you can say everything about it, then there’s no need to make the work.”
If “Thirty” is elusive in its identity, however, its setting is one of the most visible and flattering, Nomura added.
“I like the way the piece looks there,” he said. “Most of the background is uncluttered and the bridge is beautiful; it’s a nice setting.”
Downtown visitors strolling from artwork to artwork can grab on-the-spot notes on a piece’s origin and themes using their smartphones. Each plaque accompanying a sculpture includes a QR code, which can be photographed with apps that lead the viewer to a website detailing the work.
Two hours after the debut of the new Art Walk pieces, one of them was receiving only scant attention, standing unnoticed by most of the thousands crowding food booths along First Street for the weekly Chefs’ Market. Inside KVYN-FM’s promotional tent, though, Mindi Levine, a disc jockey for the radio station, caught sight of the glossy white, frond-like lobes atop the boulder-like metal base behind her.
“I see a rebirth, revitalization, a snowstorm, an exploding cloud ... or I see chaos theory!” she quipped.
The opportunity to put sculptures before thousands of people for months at a time is a rare one to be treasured, according to Suri — whether the work is liked, hated or even ignored.
“It’s why I like public art (installations) — having so many people looking at it, and having so many different opinions about it,” he said.