Public Art That's Popular

<p>People love to complain about public art, but an installation in Emeryville, CA is almost universally loved. One expert says, 'It creates something that is thought-provoking. It isn't just decorative.'</p>
June 17, 2008, 7am PDT | Tim Halbur
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"It's getting harder to be noticed in the bulging, big tent of public art, but a project in tiny Emeryville (population 6,882) is causing heads to swivel.

All around the East Bay city, normally unnoticed utility boxes on sidewalks near traffic lights have been reborn as eye-grabbing, head-scratching works of art.

The materials and design are simple: a black stick figure on a yellow background, the same character commonly seen on road signs.

But this figure is doing odd things. At one intersection, he's juggling three heads. In front of City Hall, he's kneeling and tending a giant question mark. A few blocks away, he's tightrope-walking on a Möbius strip.

"I try to make the art more friendly and accessible and welcoming," said Oakland-based conceptual artist Seyed Alavi, who came up with the idea in a city competition for unleashing the aesthetic potential of the large metal boxes that contain controls for stoplights.

Titled "Signs of the Times," the project was named Best Pedestrian-Puzzling Public Art in a best-of-the-East-Bay feature in the current issue of Oakland magazine.

The Iranian-born Alavi, 49, who holds a master's in fine arts from the San Francisco Art Institute, said he wanted to install "something that would give you a moment to laugh and a moment to reflect."

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Published on Monday, June 16, 2008 in The San Francisco Chronicle
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