By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A massive, multi-colored sculpture towering over Santa Rosa Avenue has been in place for only a few days, but it already is accomplishing its goal of stimulating debate about what it means.
The 65-foot-tall, 10,000-pound obelisk made of recycled bicycle parts was hoisted into place by a crane last weekend, and ever since, motorists and passers-by have been gawking at the massive monument.
“It’s a homage to the Washington Monument, in gears,” offered Tracey Slate of Alexandria, Va., who wandered over from a nearby muffler shop to squint up in befuddlement at the work, titled “Cyclisk.”
“It’s impressive,” said her 12-year-old son, Mourad Sami.
All afternoon, visitors and neighbors asked questions and offered opinions about the structure, including the role of public art, the appropriateness of the materials and location, the cost of the endeavor and the deeper political messages behind it.
The diversity of views triggered by the sculpture is exactly what Petaluma artist Mark Grieve and his partner, Ilana Spector, hoped to provoke.
“I wanted everyone to just bring to the table whatever they wanted to,” Grieve said. “I don’t want to dictate anything to anybody.”
Several people interpreted Grieve’s use of recycled bicycle parts in a sculpture located among automobile-related businesses as a political message about alternative transportation options.
Jim Bennett, owner of the used-car dealership Good Stuff Auto adjacent to the sculpture, said placing a piece of art “that pays homage to bicycles” in the midst of car dealers and auto body shops is “a little bit akin to having a pop art depiction of a hot dog outside a high-end restaurant.”
Bob Spitzer, who works at Birky’s Paint & Body Shop, also wondered if the Cyclisk was a sign of the political preferences of some in City Hall eager to “do away with cars on Santa Rosa Avenue at some point and see nothing but bicycles.”
His boss, Arnold Birky, likes the $37,000 piece, but wondered about what it says about the city’s priorities.
“Couldn’t they do something else with that money? I’d like to see South A Street paved with it,” Birky said.
Others embraced the pro-bicycle message they saw in the work.
“I love the shape, I love the size and I love that it’s bicycles,” said Susan Doyle, a Marin County artist. “I don’t know if it’s part of the message, but it should be.”
Doyle and several friends were returning from visiting the Sonoma County Art Museum when they saw the sculpture, “screeched on the brakes,” and started snapping photos.
“It’s absolutely fantastic,” said her friend, Giselle Kappus of Sausalito.
The size of the work is impressive, said Tara Matheny-Schuster, arts coordinator for the city’s Recreation, Parks & Community Services department.
“I think the sheer scale of it is what’s striking people at this time,” she said. “It’s the biggest sculpture that we have here in Santa Rosa, and in Sonoma County, I think.”
Grieve said he wanted the sculpture to be as large as possible so it could stand out and not get “swallowed up in the visual landscape.”
“We felt that the piece needed to be a certain scale to be its own thing rather than a decoration,” said Grieve, who waived his artist’s fee to put 100 percent of the budget into the piece.
Grieve enjoys hearing people’s differing interpretations of the work, but suggested his use of materials was not meant to be an overt political statement about bicycle culture.
“The reason I got into bicycle parts is because they are cheap,” Grieve said.
The bicycle parts came from about 340 unusable bicycles donated to him by community bicycle programs in Santa Rosa, San Rafael and Santa Barbara, he said.
After several months of design work and approvals by the city, he, Spector and others spent about four months at a warehouse in Oakland welding the bike parts together around a rectangular metal frame.
The project was funded though a 1 percent tax on the new $3.7 million Nissan of Santa Rosa dealership building. Since 2006, the city has required all commercial projects that exceed $500,000 in building cost to spend 1 percent of the construction cost on public art.
Some businesses choose to install the art on their own property, like the tile work at the new Whole Foods building in Coddingtown or the mosaic sculpture by Mario Uribe outside the CVS Drugs building on Steele Lane, said Matheny-Schuster.
To date, five businesses have installed pieces in public view on their property as part of the program, while six others are in progress. Numerous other businesses have opted to pay the fee to the city, which used the money for art installations in the downtown arts district, Matheny-Schuster said.
To date, a total of $412,000 has been dedicated to artwork through the program, she said.
Nissan worked with the city to locate its $37,000 contribution on a triangular shaped city-owned parcel nearby. The requirement that the dealership spend the additional money was “a little bit of a sting” at the time, said dealership owner Jim Bone.
“It sits a lot better with me now that I’ve seen what we got for it,” he said.