Early Public Landscape Art By Bonnie Ora Sherk Featured In SFMOMA Show – SF’s Original “Parklet”

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Portable Parks l – lll (1970), an early artwork by Bonnie Ora Sherk, (with Howard Levine), that transformed three barren, sterile, urban "dead spaces" into green, living environments replete with sod, palm trees, and live animals is being featured in an exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  The show, Fifty Years of Bay Area Art and the SECA Art Award, opened on December 7 and continues through April 3, 2012.

Portable Parks l – lll, won the 1st SECA Vernal Equinox Award that year, and for four days the performance installation moved to three sites in San Francisco:  the former James Lick Freeway that crossed over Market Street; two concrete islands adjacent to the  Mission/Van Ness Offramp; the whole street of Maiden Lane between Stockton and Grant.

In her Catalog essay for the Exhibition, SFMOMA Curator, Tanya Zimbardo says about the work:  "Bonnie Ora Sherk’s first public artwork (p. 40) temporarily revitalized the dead, mechanistic urban spaces of San Francisco through “bucolic demonstrations” in the form of portable parks featuring plants and animals.7 The onus was on the artists to find sites for these installations and obtain the necessary permits. As Sherk has explained, “with the Portable Parks it was necessary for me to deal with certain established systems, communicate with them, and convince them of the rightness of the work.” 8 A recent resurgence of interest in 1970s street actions like Sherk’s has coincided with a growing focus among a new generation of artists on temporary installations that fuse environmentalism and urban planning."

7. San Francisco Museum of Art, “SECA/VESA Award 1970,” news release, 1970. Carton 10, Folder 56, “Vernal Equinox Special Award, 1970–1972,” Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art (SECA) Records, 1960–2010; SFMOMA Archives. Sherk’s Portable Parks were staged at the following locations: Portable Parks I: June 25 on the James Lick Freeway near the Oak Street on-ramp; Portable Parks II on June 26 at the corner of Mission, Otis, and Duboce at the freeway off-ramp; Portable Parks III on June 27–28 at Maiden Lane from Grant Street to Stockton Street. Sherk would expand these one-day parks on a much larger scale with the alternative space Crossroads Community (The Farm) (1974–80) located on land parcels underneath a freeway interchange (and even later with A Living Library.)

8. Linda Frye Burnham, “Between the Diaspora and the Crinoline: An Interview with Bonnie Sherk,” High Performance (Fall 1981): 58.

As Zimbardo suggested in her essay, Portable Parks l – lll, was a pioneering artwork that predated and influenced the current interest in Parking Day and Parklets in San Francisco and other cities.

Portable Parks l – lll and Sherk's Sitting Still Series are included the Orange County Museum of Art exhibition, California State Of Mind, part of the Getty's large initiative, Pacific Standard Time.

Sherk's new work, Portable Park lV –  past, present, future = A Living Library, in conjunction with Otis College of Art & Design, the City of Santa Monica, Maserich,  and featured in the Getty's Performance & Public Art Festival will open at Santa Monica Place in Santa Monica, California on January 27 – February 4, 2012.  View link on The Getty's PST Website:  Portable Park lV – past, present, future = A Living Library

A review of the SFMOMA show in the December, 2011 issue of San Francisco Magazine can be seen below:

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