One of my favorite public art pieces in San Francisco is a rundown rat trap that was a residence hotel until a fire there twenty years ago. In 1997, artist Brian Goggin turned it into the Defenestration Building with furniture crawling out the windows and up the exterior walls, some of it leaping from the roof. Couches and refrigerators and a floor lamp and an armoire not only hang off every surface, but also twist in very un-furniturelike ways. They all seem very animated, especially the spindly little end tables that scramble along like cats on ice. It’s wacky.
The building itself, not so wacky. It’s a substantial piece of real estate on a prominent corner that’s been abandoned for decades and the fact its ramshackle state adds to the dilapidation of Sixth Street is pretty damn annoying. Sixth Street is a filthy skid row that has resisted the steady efforts of the city and several very right thinking non-profits to change it for the better. I know, I’ve worked with Urban Solutions, one of the best nonprofits involved, for years and watched them struggle against the entrenched shabbiness of the area that defeats most of the businesses that try to move in there. So dealing with one of the most derelict buildings in the neighborhood is okay by me.
But the only solution the local development agency can think of is tear it down, art and all, and start over. It’s a big sturdy building, why not renovate the interior and keep the art on the outside? There’s little enough charm in the world, why destroy some on purpose?