San Francisco, Calif. – In 2012, San Francisco celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge with International Orange, a major exhibition and public art project. One of the 16 artists involved in the exhibition was Andy Freeberg. For his photographic installation called Gatekeepers, Freeberg created a series of images of the bridge’s numerous personnel, including toll takers, highway patrols, painters, gardeners, and maintenance crews. His project, a representation of the bridge as a workplace, was so exciting for the bridge community that during the exhibition’s opening weekend, workers drove down to Fort Point in their trucks and ran in to see their portraits.
International Orange was directed and curated by Cheryl Haines and was housed inside the historic Fort Point, which sits just under the south end of the bridge. The exhibit initiated a subtle conversation between past and present, nature and the built environment, and the various groups of humans who have inhabited the site. Its subtlety was an achievement, especially considering our romance with the iconic site.
In part, that subtlety resulted from Haines’s close contact with the bridge and its environment. “I’ve spent months out here now, and it’s alive!” said Haines in an interview in June. “It’s an entire community: it’s the people who work there, it’s the tourists that visit, it’s the traffic beneath it—the ships, the sailboats, the sea life, the surfers—it’s an extraordinary environment!”
The decision of where to locate International Orange in the first place was a complex challenge for Haines, who said she wanted to “capture the imagination of a wide variety of visitors, not just art-world people.” Her choice of Fort Point allowed her to “create a broad timeline that would include historical material through the contemporary moment.”
Haines said that the minute she entered the space, she knew it was a rich environment, not only for its “architectural excellence,” but also for its philosophical relationship to the bridge. Joseph Strauss, designer of the bridge, insisted on keeping the fort “because the architecture was so sublime,” going so far as to design a bridge arc that spans Fort Point to preserve it. “I love the fact that one architect would respect the work of another so entirely,” said Haines. “It’s a rare phenomenon.”
One of the most significant aspects of International Orange, sponsored by the FOR-SITE Foundation in partnership with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the National Park Service, was the way in which the 16 featured artists addressed space—whether perceptually, locationally, or mathematically defined. Spaces receive their essence from locations, uses, and histories, and the works created for International Orange were responsive to and informed by the site’s proximity to the Golden Gate Bridge, which had a constant visual and aural presence throughout the complex.