New hope for public art in Palo Alto?

As a town, Palo Alto has a troubled history with public art. 

Its clearest successes have been deeply traditionalphoto-realistic, or utilitarian. But too often work chosen for the city's public spaces has tipped into the simplistic, the banal, the insultingly obvious, and the outright trashy. Some works even terrify children, without giving off the sense that terror was ever the intention (it would at least be interesting if fear were the object, I guess).   

The sad thing is the most recent stuff is the worst. There was a time when important public work was done here.  It still happens at Stanford. 

Tomorrow, though, will see a return to something much better. It's a site-specific work by East Coast sculptor Patrick Dougherty, commissioned by the Palo Alto Art Center and the frequently taste-challenged Palo Alto Public Art Commission. This time, at least, they made a good call.

It's hardly uncommon to find sculptors creating large scale works from young willow these days. Here are yet more amazing examples (willow also has a venerable history as the source material for livingdecorative fencing). Among the artists in the field, Dougherty's work is often good but not great. It's not, for example, enormously varied. Woven houses and figures are mostly what he goes for, although he can break out of that mold with spectacular success

So I was expecting Dougherty's Palo Alto piece to be a little too domestic for my taste.

Actually, though, it's pretty fun - whimsical but substantial, organic but kookily off-kilter. 

The willow is local -- from Pescadero.  

The piece will stay up a couple of years, I gather. I think it's a great addition to the city. 

Here's a rather over-exposed shot of the artist himself adding some final twigs.

If you are in the Palo Alto area and want to see it, it's right outside the Palo Alto Art Center on the corner of Newell and Embarcadero.