Andy Goldsworthy’s ‘Spire’

“Spire,” a major new work by British artist Andy Goldsworthy in the Presidio of San Francisco, rises like a steeple out of the earth. Standing on a ridge above a busy, winding road, overlooking the bay and Alcatraz Island in the distance, “Spire” grabs the attention of joggers, bikers and sightseers alike. Some forty cypress logs have been pressed into a massive, 100-foot-tall cone. Its wide, steel-reinforced base narrows into a crooked tip, like a delicate finger. But the idea behind this permanent sculpture is intentionally non-monumental. Fated to fade into the forest, “Spire” eventually should be outgrown by saplings planted to replace the trees used to build it.

Goldsworthy has been creating land art for thirty years, first in England, then throughout Europe and America. His other permanent works in the Bay Area include “Stone River” at Stanford University and “Drawn Stone” at the De Young Museum, both of which echo the aftermaths of California’s earthquakes. His photographs of his art have been published as several books, and he was the subject of the 2001 documentary, “Rivers and Tides.”

[View a slide show of Goldsworthy’s Spire and Stone River.

Goldsworthy erected “Spire,” his tallest work in North America, with considerable help from the park’s forestry staff. Usually the one to manipulate his materials, here he guided others. And instead of picking a specific site, he accommodated park plans, using land slated to be cleared. In participation with the Presidio Trust, the installation was organized by the Haines Gallery and the FORSITE Foundation, a non-profit arts organization dedicated to promoting art about place.

Well-known for more ephemeral pieces prone to melting, tumbling or blowing away, Goldsworthy created another, more improvised project just feet from the main site: shafts of dried grass bent in upturned chevrons suspended on the bark of a large tree. People who happen upon the site today are unlikely to known it had been anything, stalks now in a pile on the ground as if never assembled.

Goldsworthy has developed plans for other permanent projects in the Presidio, including two more spires. As I stuck my hand inside the structure to try and reach the core, Cheryl Haines, gallery owner and Goldsworthy’s San Francisco dealer, wondered if animals would make homes in the “Spire.” Over the course of the day, animals were drawn to the site: usually dogs, by their curious owners.

In addition to the permanent installation, an interpretive exhibit is open in Building 49 at the Presidio, until May 3, 2009, featuring photographs of past work, sketches for future Presidio projects and a smaller model of “Spire.”

Editor’s note: NewsHour correspondent Jeffrey Brown recently talked to Goldsworthy about his life’s work here in Art Beat. You can also find more about Goldsworthy on KQED’s Spark, including video of the installation of “Drawn Stone.”

Support PBS NewsHour: