Los Altos, California is in the heart of Silicon Valley, a short drive from San Francisco and less than 15 minutes each from Apple’s Cupertino headquarters and Google and Microsoft’s campuses in Mountain View. It’s an almost unsettlingly idyllic small town— visit right now, and you’ll be there in time to see the leaves change on the trees that line State Street, Los Altos’ quaint main drag, abutting wine bars and yarn shops.
Through next March, Los Altos is also the home—and subject—of a site-specific installation series, “Project Los Altos,” curated by SFMOMA. The museum’s main location in downtown San Francisco is closed through early 2016 to make way for a massive expansion, and in the interim, its curators are taking their talents on the road, working on a variety of projects at various locations in and around the city. As SFMOMA’s curator of painting and sculpture, Janet Bishop, explains, “Project Los Altos” came about thanks to a well-connected friend: the designer and sustainability advocate Yves Behar, who in the midst of a three-year term on SFMOMA’s board introduced its curators to the co-founders of Passerelle Investments Company, a Los Altos-based developer with an emphasis on green initiatives and urban planning.
Together with Passerelle, SFMOMA worked to transform 10 spaces in downtown Los Altos, both indoors and outdoors, to host the work of nine national and international artists. Each of the artists two whom SFMOMA reached out agreed immediately, and each examines Silicon Valley and its culture in a very different way: from Alec Soth’s haunting black-and-white photographs in and around tech-industry campuses, to Chris Johanson’s weathered old door encasing an apricot tree in an orchard near city hall, to Christian Jankowski’s intriguing videos of entrepreneurs and programmers applying tech jargon to monologues about love, poetry, and drinking.
Taken in aggregate, “Project Los Altos” offers a nuanced portrait of a very American kind of place, where optimism, loneliness, and beauty are available in equal measure. We spoke with Bishop about each of the nine artists’ work; click through the slideshow above for a sampling of what’s going on in Los Altos.
“PROJECT LOS ALTOS” IS ON VIEW AT VARIOUS LOCATIONS IN LOS ALTOS, CALIFORNIA, THROUGH MARCH 2, 2014. FOR MORE ON THE EXHIBITION, PLEASE VISIT SFMOMA’S WEBSITE.