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Project Los Altos

Jeremy Blake's Winchester trilogy, a series of three unsettling short animated films based on the 160-room Winchester mansion, rumored haunted, in nearby San Jose, were already included in SFMOMA's permanent collection and were a natural choice to include in "Project Los Altos." The videos, along with Spencer Finch's Back to Kansas [next slide], are on display at 242 State Street, in the site of a former Italian restaurant.

Jeremy Blake, Century 21 (still), 2004; digital animation with sound, 12 min.; Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund: gift of Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein, Mimi and Peter Haas, Helen and Charles Schwab, and Robin Wright. Image courtesy of the estate of Jeremy Aaron Blake.

Spencer Finch created his work, Back to Kansas, specifically with 242 State Street in mind; the space includes a large, south-facing skylight, which allows for very different experiences of the multicolored geometric work depending on the weather and time of day at which it's encountered. "Spencer's piece being inspired by the colors in the Wizard of Oz gives a cinematic quality to his work as well, especially because the experience of it is so time based," Bishop explains.

Spencer Finch, Study for Back to Kansas, 2013; commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, courtesy the artist; Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago; and James Cohan Gallery, New York. Image courtesy of Spencer Finch.



"Los Altos, not being directly associated with a university or being in an urban center is just a completely unlikely place to be a center of avant-garde performance art," Bishop remarks—but that's exactly what it became in the early '70s, thanks to the efforts of Charles Garoian, a high-school teacher who staged elaborate performance-art pieces with his students at Los Altos High School. These include "Watermelon Sculpture," pictured, in which Garoian's students arranged melon into a grid structure and then methodically changed the nature of the work by cutting the fruit into increasingly smaller pieces. Garoian's relationship with SFMOMA has been a long, fruitful one (no pun intended): he received the museum's 1974 Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art Award for his work at the school. 

Charles Garoian, Documentation of Watermelon Sculpture, 1972; digitized slide documentation; collection of the artist. Image courtesy of Charles Garoian.



For his project, Christian Jankowski sought out residents of Los Altos and its environs who work in tech and asked them to deliver monologues on subjects about which they are passionate—falling in love, holidays, family, drinking—using industry jargon. The fascinating result might find, for example, a poet talking about beta-testing his verse in order to ensure the greatest return on investment for his user base.

Christian Jankowski, Silicon Valley Talks (production photo), 2013, commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art with generous funding provided by Adriane Iann and Christian Stolz, courtesy the artist. Image courtesy of Christian Jankowski and Chris Tipton-King.



Artist Chris Johanson is from San Jose and grew up familiar with the Los Altos area: "It's a place he skated when he was in high school, so he knows it, and he was also drawn to the beauty of the surrounding landscape—the hills and the trees, I think was very compelled by that," Bishop says. "I think in a lot of ways, his pieces extend his drawing practice." Johanson is probably best known for his drawings, but for "Project Los Altos" pursued five outdoor installations, including the 20-foot-tall inflatable question mark pictured here, stitched from multicolored pieces of recycled fabric.

Chris Johanson, Sketch for I Do Not Know But Am Open to Learning, 2013; commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, courtesy the artist; Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco; Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York; and The Suzanne Geiss Company, New York. Image courtesy of Chris Johanson.



Kateřina Šedá began her research in Los Altos by interviewing a number of its residents about their hometown. "As she talked to people in the town, it was a recurring response, when she asked what Los Altos was like, that 'everything was perfect,'" Bishop says. "So I thought it was a particularly apt title for her project." Šedá created a records office in her space at 359 State Street, encouraging visitors to nominate themselves for Guinness Book-style awards in mundane categories like "Longest Hair" and "Largest Collection of Salt and Pepper Shakers." She also created a functional website to collect the record nominations and plans to compile them into a book when the exhibition wraps up.

Kateřina Šedá, Study for Everything is Perfect, 2013; mixed media; dimensions variable; commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, courtesy the artist and Franco Soffiantino Contemporary Art Productions, Turin, Italy. Image courtesy of Kateřina Šedá and Adam Macháček.

For his spectral black-and-white photos taken on and around the campuses of huge tech companies, photographer Alec Soth depended on both his own Rolodex and SFMOMA's. "It was a little bit of a challenge to get as close as he wanted to," Bishop says. "But with a lot of phone calls and emails, both on the part of his team and our photography department here, we managed to create access for him to the places we wanted to go."

Alec Soth, Quick Fix Computer Sales & Services, Mountain View, 2013; inkjet print; 14 3/4 x 19 3/4 in. (37.5 x 50.2 cm); commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Image courtesy of Alec Soth.



When he visited Los Altos, filmmaker, artist, and Interview pal Mike Mills immediately connected with one of Los Altos' most remarkable sights: the Costume Bank, a 40-year-old costume shop in town that doubles as the primary fundraiser for the Assistance League of Los Altos, a civic nonprofit. Mills' installation, located in the shop's back office, explores the area's past, juxtaposing a reprinted 1976 issue of the Los Altos Town Crier with copies of official documents pertaining to the formation of the Apple Computer Company, created in the same week that year; its present, by creating a rack of 2010s-era "costumes" based on the everyday outfits of some average Los Altos residents; and its future, through video interviews [pictured] with the children of Silicon Valley workers about their ideas of what's to come in the world. "I don't think it was a challenge to find parents who thought that their kids might be well suited to that project," Bishop says.

Mike Mills, A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought Alone: Silicon Valley Project (still), 2013; single-channel video, costumes, and broadsheet; dimensions variable; commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, courtesy the artist. Image courtesy of Mike Mills.

For her work, conceptual artist Jessica Stockholder transformed the fabric of Los Altos itself: she created a multicolored design to be painted directly onto an intersection on State Street, in order to encourage visitors and residents to think more deeply about the notion of an "intersection." She also installed bleachers on the sidewalk nearby, so passersby could take a moment to sit and observe the visual impact of the work changing as pedestrians and cars cross through it and interact with it. It's already made quite a splash. "When it was first completed, whether people were on foot or in vehicles, they were responding to it in some ways like the way you respond to a Carl André floor piece when you see one installed in a museum and you're not quite sure if you should walk over it or not," Bishop says. "It was really slowing down traffic and people were not driving right over it, because it was such a beautiful and curious thing—right there in a place where you don't expect to see contemporary art." 

Jessica Stockholder, Study for Cross Hatch, 2013; commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, courtesy the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York. Image courtesy of Jessica Stockholder.