The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is currently hosting a witty installation by Beijing-based artist Zhan Wang. It's a sculpture of San Francisco made entirely of kitchenware — tongs, graters, pots, serving dishes, tea kettles, and so on. Naturally, each piece is made in China.
The photo above shows the Financial District as viewed from the south — the Ferry Building and terminal are about halfway up the photo, on the right. This is not the first time an artist has sculpted San Francisco. A few years ago, Liz Hickok made a stunning sculpture of the city out of Jello. Jello, unfortunately, has rather short lifespan, and so the sculptures were only displayed for a few days. (I never saw them in person.) Stainless steel is much more durable, and so the sculpture has been on view for several months; its run ends on May 25th.
San Francisco and China have a special connection. In the mid-19th century, thousands of Chinese sailed across the Pacific Ocean seeking their fortune in the newly discovered gold fields of California. Because of this, the city's name in one of the Chinese dialects translates as "Old Gold Mountain." A few decades later, Chinese immigrants made important contributions to the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, especially the very dangerous tunneling through mountains in the Sierra Nevada. Many of those who stayed after working in the gold fields or on the railroad ended up working in the service industry, which gives the sculpture's choice of kitchenware symbolic value.
A few of my photos from the exhibition follow below.
The first one is Zhan's interpretation of the Golden Gate Bridge, a construction of box graters and tongs. The anchorage on the right (the north side) consists of a steel rock made by the artist and the actual rock that he used as a model. Fittingly, the rock was collected by the artist in California gold country (the other part of the exhibition is a collection of steel rocks made by the artist and their real counterparts). Notice that the leftmost tower seems to be listing — perhaps a commentary on the shaky foundation of San Francisco.
The next photo shows the Ferry Building (in the foreground) and the view down Market Street. The artist has even included trolley tracks made out of metal chopsticks.
Finally, Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower (on the right side of the picture), and the waterfront (on the left side of the picture).
Although it could be seen as nothing more than a stunt, the installation also addresses some serious topics. For example, some might see the sculpture as an illustration of the dependence of American society on cheap imports, or style versus substance. As with much contemporary art, there are as many interpretations as viewers.
More coverage of the installation can be found in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Upfront (a radio program from New American Media). Upfront has an interview with Jeff Kelley, the curator of the exhibition. You can download an MP3 of the program. The Kelley segment begins at the 45:16 point.