Jenny Strauss, a bold performance artist and writer, busy mother, and self-proclaimed “irreverent truth-seeker,” took a few minutes out of her hectic schedule to talk about the 5 outdoor art installations in Berkeley she enjoys the most.
As an artist, Strauss appreciates the public nature and access of outdoor art and recognizes it as a collaborative project between the artist and viewer which utilizes shared space as part of the interpretive experience.
“I just think it’s really cool to happen upon these art installations. To find them by chance, rather than to seek them out, is part of their magic,” Strauss explained.
Ranking high on Strauss’s list is the mosaic wall at Willard Park. Created in 1978 of cast cement, tile shards, and found objects, the wall is a stunning visual mosaic.
“It’s truly beautiful,” Strauss said, “and it invites people to investigate it,” she continued. “I love to take my daughter and together we see how many like things we can find, how many turtles, or stars, or whatever.”
Another important outdoor installation for Strauss is the Addison Street Poetry Walk. Created by the City of Berkeley in 2003, the Berkeley Poetry Walk is comprised of over 120 cast-iron poetry panels which are placed in the concrete along the curbside sidewalk of Addison Street (between Shattuck and Milvia). Pedestrians can walk to the rhythm of the poems they read, slowing down to scan the words, lyrics, and lines as they amble.
“My son and I love to read—or sing—the poems out loud to each other,” Strauss recounted. “It’s phenomenal; I never get sick of it.”
A must-see destination for Strauss is the Spruce Street Sculpture Garden. The creation of Berkeley artist, Buldan Seka, the oversized sculptures are romantic and whimsical, brightly hued and visually arresting. Placed outside Seka’s residence, the statues are hard to miss but took Strauss by surprise nonetheless.
“My partner and our son were driving down Spruce one day and there it was,” Strauss recalled. “They picked me up and drove me back to see it. I remember it was quite beautiful and it was totally unexpected.”
Strauss ranks the garden gate at Malcolm X Elementary School high on her list as well. As the entryway to the children’s school garden, the gate is “a threshold, and thresholds are magical,” Strauss declared. “It is the entrance to a world where children and plants are nurtured, and it is vibrantly whimsical.”
Last, but certainly not least, for Strauss, is the Hillegass Street House A private residence, whose occupants have constructed an elaborate and startling outdoor art installation, the house on Hillegass (at Stuart) is an evolving piece that includes lights, making it visible at night too. “It has the same magic for me as Christmas lights do,” Strauss said, smiling. “I can drive by at twilight and get caught in the twinkle and glinting colors.”
Whichever of the 5 outdoor art installations Jenny Strauss opts to visit, she is sure to bring her kids along with her. “That’s the truly wonderful part of these outdoor art installations,” Strauss averred, “to happen upon them with my kids. We experience a kind of electric delight when we discover art together and that’s a gift we appreciate.”