Gale Hart's been painting, bending and blasting her work on the central city grid since the 1970s. Some refer to her as Sacramento’s Godmother of Contemporary Art. Ryan Lillis The Sacramento Bee
Gale Hart's been painting, bending and blasting her work on the central city grid since the 1970s. Some refer to her as Sacramento’s Godmother of Contemporary Art. Ryan Lillis The Sacramento Bee

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City Beat

Arena work offers boost for Sacramento’s ‘Godmother of Contemporary Art’

By Ryan Lillis

rlillis@sacbee.com

January 17, 2016 12:01 PM

One of the first local artists to have her artwork approved at the new downtown arena is a skateboarding vegan who’s helped nurture a generation of artists. Gale Hart also isn’t shy about expressing her thoughts on Jeff Koons, guns, animal rights or other topics that might rile a squeamish crowd.

Hart’s been painting, bending and blasting her work on the central city grid since the 1970s. Some refer to her as Sacramento’s Godmother of Contemporary Art.

Last month, the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission approved the design for her untitled work outside Golden 1 Center, one of four permanent public artworks to be displayed at the site. The contract granting Hart a $300,000 commission is expected to be approved by the City Council next month.

The installation will stand near Fifth and L streets, where a 10-foot dart made of stainless steel and fiberglass will stick into the ground. Multiple darts are included in the work; one of them might stick out of the base of the arena. A dart board in the ground won’t have numbers or a bull’s-eye – the numbers will appear as concrete benches and bollards, and the bull’s-eye will be in the grasp of a large bronze hand.

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The absence of numbers and a bull’s-eye on the board is a reflection of Hart’s mischievous side, given the work is going outside a sports arena. “It’s deconstructing the game, taking competition out of it,” she said. “What if we didn’t keep score? Is keeping score good or is it a hindrance?”

Hart works out of a studio/garage in midtown. There’s enough room for her to work on her craft – and thrash on her skateboard, as she was doing when I showed up to meet her last week.

Her work is often edgy, such as the more than 25 gun sculptures she’s created representing a running commentary on society’s fascination with firearms. Some of her other work is critical of the way animals are treated for entertainment and food.

She’s also full of tough love for some of the young artists in town who complain that Sacramento isn’t interested in buying their work.

“Too many artists think the city needs to hand them something,” she said. “A lot of artists have this attitude that they’re special because they make art. It’s a gift, but it’s also a job.”

The arena work is the biggest moment in her career, she said. The large commission will mean she will have the resources to create exactly what she wants. And she’s jazzed about having her work shown just a few feet from a Koons sculpture.

The Kings and city are paying $8 million for a statue from Koons’ “Coloring Book” collection that will stand near the main entrance of the arena. When the City Council approved the purchase last year, critics’ loudest argument against the idea was that the cash should have gone to local artists, not a New York-based artist who is among the most famous in the world.

“If Sacramento wants to play with the big boys, they have to invite the big boys in,” Hart said. “There’s not an artist in this town that’s in a place in their career where they deserve $8 million.”

Hart’s career has spanned five decades. She’s turning 60 this year and, after years of helping other artists through gallery openings and collaboratives, she said she’s in a groove focusing on her own work.

“When you get to do whatever you want in life, it’s a whole different landscape than people who have to go to a job every day,” she said.