The shoreline of the San Pablo Bay is a world away from Nevada's Black Rock Desert where the annual Burning Man festival goes down every year, yet the two lands now share a common link — the festival's large-scale art.
The new owners of the San Pablo Bay Harbor, a remote boat harbor at the tip of Point Molate north of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, recently cleared a grass field strewn with trash and debris and turned it into a sculpture park where large-scale pieces from Burning Man can live. Its first installation includes a pair of large-scale art pieces that originally appeared at the festival.
"Being located in Richmond is a perfect place to open this beautiful experience," said Rob Fyfe, co-owner of the harbor.
When the purchase of the harbor was completed two years ago, Fyfe went about clearing trash and debris from an adjacent field covering 15 acres. As a Burning Man devotee, he saw the chance to use the space to display some of the festival's art pieces in a park setting.
"The idea is that we open the transformational and inspirational power of these pieces to a wider swath of the community," Fyfe said. "The inspiration you get from seeing a work of art that just makes you go, 'I can’t believe someone built this.'"
The remote location of the harbor, which is reached by a 20-minute drive down a pockmarked, winding road, seemed in-step with the underground nature of the annual festival which draws 80,000 revelers to a dry, inhospitable lakebed in the Nevada desert. In contrast, the harbor looks out on the San Pablo Bay with views of commercial ships lumbering past the Marin County shoreline.
For the Burning Man festival each year, artists devote massive amounts of time and resources to craft imagination-defying art pieces. While some pieces are burned at the culmination of the event, pieces coming back frequently return to a less glamorous existence once the party is over.
"Often times art comes back from the playa and ends up sitting in someone's warehouse collecting dust," said Will Chase, a former Burning Man employee who is now helping lead a public art organization called We Are From Dust.
Chase's nonprofit group, made up of former Burning Man organizers, is working toward the goal of creating public installations around the Bay Area and beyond featuring art created for the festival.
"Our initiative is to get that artwork out into the world so more people can experience it, whether or not they're able to go to Burning Man," Chase said.
The sculpture park is the group's first foray — displaying sculptures in the new park by Burning Man artist stalwarts Kate Raudenbush from New York and Berkeley's Michael Christian. Chase said the park will have some permanent installations with a rotation of other art works.
Raudenbush's piece, a large sculpture of a steel tree astride a black pyramid called Future's Past, was commissioned for 2010 Burning Man and has since appeared in an exhibit of the festival's art in the Smithsonian.
"This is a place that you come and you don't exactly know where you're going, and you all of a sudden end up in this magical place," said Raudenbush, flanked by her scupture as the wind whipped along the shore.
Over the last decade, the Bay Area has frequently displayed Burning Man art in public venues. Five Ton Crane's Raygun Gothic Rocketship sat on San Francisco's Embarcadero. Karen Cusolito's large metal flowers lived in San Francisco's U.N. Plaza. Michael Christian's 40-foot tall alien-like sculptures created for the 2001 Burning Man were displayed in San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza.
"It's an opportunity to have work out in the world which is what you're doing it for in the first place," Christian said of the new sculpture park. "You're building it to share with people, so when an opportunity presents itself, it's a blessing. It doesn't happen nearly enough."
Since taking over the harbor, Fyfe's group has opened a restaurant and a club that features old-time music. On a recent Sunday, around a hundred people gathered in the harbor to christen the new park. Visitors explored the docks where some 10 houseboats make up a small residential community aside 200 boat slips. They walked out the dirt path wrapping around the harbor to see Christian's spindly orb-like sculpture he calls Asterpod and picnicked in front of Raudenbush's installation called Future's Past.
Electronic music carried on whipping winds as visitors stepped into the steel pyramid and marveled at the off-the-grid location — just a short drive from the cities of Richmond and San Rafael.
"What you find is with the art installations that are out here, you see people interacting with them — and not only interacting with the art but interacting with each other," Chase said, taking in the scene. "That's the power of what we're trying to create here."