A tower, but no Rapunzel

You can talk about things, or you can do something about them.

A building contractor named Steve Oliver, up in the Geyserville area, was sick of the commercialism of the art markets.  So he decided to make his own statement.  He started to collect the kind of art that cannot be moved, and cannot be sold.

He has a large piece of property, and has so far commissioned 17 works of site-specific art.  You can enjoy the art, but it isn’t going anywhere and can’t ever enter the art market.

Even enjoying the art isn’t easy–the ranch is not open to the public, except on group tours that benefit arts associations.  That’s why on a a rainy Saturday we got on a bus in Oakland with the Oakland Museum Art Guild and headed into the hinterlands.

We weren’t, sadly, on a mission to see the entire collection.  Our goal yesterday was to see the Hamilton tower, a 128 foot tall concrete tower, enclosing 2 circular, interwoven staircases in the form of a double helix.  It was designed by Ann Hamilton, one of the big names in this sort of art.  He gave her the commission 14 years ago, and it took this long to come up with a plan and execute it.

Beyond the tower, though, we were going to hear the Pacific Mozart Ensemble perform 2 brand-new, site specific works.  They are a choral group, but not your college glee club.

We trooped across the meadow and over the rise, and then squirmed into the tower–there is no real “door”, just a wide opening you sit in and swing your legs through.  Once inside, we trudged up the stairs, noting that the visitors were on one staircase and the musical artists were on the other staircase–all in the same place but not meeting or interacting, sort of like an M.C. Escher etching.

The music started–the first piece was Mozart, honoring the Ensemble’s name, then moved into the new pieces by Sanford Dole and Amy X. Neuburg.  This isn’t the kind of music I listen to, so I don’t have much to say.  Some of it had words, some was only sounds.  The acoustics in the tower are amazing, with warm, round tones somehow coming off the concrete and steel structure.  One of the pieces was written around the theme of water, from a poem by Paula Gunn Allen. At appropriate moments, water was poured from high up in the tower into the pool at its base, adding to the moment. To be in that tower, with rain falling the full length of the building and dripping down the sides, listening to the ethereal music and hearing the poetry was one of moments of life that can never be repeated or improved upon.

Following the performance, there was a reception in a winery tasting room in Geyserville, where we got to meet and schmooze with the composers and the tower designer.

On the bus ride home, we were all glued to our iPhones, watching the pitch-by-pitch of the ball game and screaming in delight when the Giants managed to pull it out at the nailbiting end.

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