Would-be art critics sour over more public art

The Associated Press
Monday October 09, 2000

CASTRO VALLEY — One might think that a town which plays host to diverse interests ranging from the Sequoians nudist camp to the Cavy World Guinea Pig Rescue organization would be open to just about anything. 

Anything, that is, except bad art. 

The resident critics of Castro Valley have discerning eyes set on two pieces of recently placed public art that are raising more hackles than cheers. At issue are a pair of sculptures gracing the median along well-traveled Redwood Road: a 2-foot-tall display earth-toned urn spilling out stone ‘beans’ and a collection of oversized bowls. 

“They’re an eyesore. They’re blah. They don’t serve any purpose,” one local merchant said. 

It might have gone unnoticed for a small town to second-guess the local art commission, but Castro Valley’s ad hoc artisans are making a habit of it. 

In 1997, the Alameda County Art Commission spent $152,000 for a sign bearing the town’s name that lasted a whole two months before citizen’s demanded its removal. A crowd gathered to applaud the removal of the sign which now gathers dust in the corner of a truck garage. 

“I didn’t get that one. It looked to me like a botched idea,” said Steve Talmadge, a commercial photographer and Castro Valley resident for the last 18 years. 

He admits his town is slow to adopt change, preferring to keep new adornments to the small unincorporated area at a minimum. The sign in 1997 and the bowls and beans, which he doesn’t think are quite as bad, just “pop up overnight.” 

“We just like the older nostalgic feeling ... things that would come in here and go against that, (citizens) are going to speak up,” Talmadge said. 

Now some locals have their sites set on the hill of beans, which some say isn’t worth one. The artist who sculpted the work, Washington, D.C.-based Robert Sneikus, knew the city had developed a reputation for being “very hostile to public art.” 

“People (in Castro Valley) are very sure of what they like and what they dislike,” Sneikus said. “We were very skeptical about taking on this project.” 

Castro Valley resident Diane Bland denied that her city was sour on art in general, but admitted she would rather have “more money in (her) check than in beans on Redwood Road.” 

Some say they would have preferred shrubs or trees planted at the sculpture location, but plants weren’t an option because the median was too narrow and too close to underground utili