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Eyesore or Art?

Original post made by John Barry, Danville, on Jul 27, 2010

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; art is anything you can get away with. These two truisms came to mind as a I read recently in the “Contra Costa Times” about the temporary sound wall constructed on the west side of the Caldecott Tunnel’s fourth bore (“Caltrans gets earful about ‘ugly’ soundwall”).

Among comments about the structure: “Motorists and neighbors say it’s massive, monolithic and unsightly—even for a freeway project. . .” “It makes me feel a little claustrophobic,” said Michelle Irwin, a resident for 15 years of the Parkwood Condominiums complex on Caldecott Lane. “It’s ugly, but it’s a soundwall. Who likes the look of soundwalls?” She and other neighbors are hoping Caltrans will soften the harsh look of the wall by adding paint or fabric.

Perhaps “installation” artist Christo (who has wrapped the Reichstag and the Pont Neuf, among other architectural icons) could drape the structure in his signature style.

But had, say, Christo, installed the wall as it stands now, I can visualize the paean by some pundit of paint:

“With ‘Caldecott Construction,’ [insert name of artist X here] has created a totemic tableau, a figurative and literal interface between the city and outlying spaces. Starkly set against the organic-hues backdrop of the hills separating SF from the suburbs, X’s wall is a flat, dull gray, symbolizing at once the monochromatic-appearing city skyline as drivers first view it when they emerge from the tunnel, the blandness of suburbia, and the concrete roadway linking the two worlds.

“To reinforce these three components, X has broken his plane into three oblique panels topped by claustrophobia-inducing escarpments that bring to mind the tunnels themselves. Even when we emerge from the confinements of the tunnels in our cocoon coaches, we are still trapped, X seems to be saying. We move along the freeway, but are we really free?

“X could have pandered to an obvious aesthetic by adorning the walls with pseudograffiti, but instead s/he wisely opted for megalithic, monochromatic monumentalism. X leaves us with a big blank slate onto which we can each project our own goals, desires, demons, dreams. . . .”

Something like that.

John A. Barry is a writer and avocational artist. To share anything art-related, call him at 314-9528 or email


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